Public Safety

Openings begin Tuesday for Cedar Rapids man charged in deadly drug robbery

Trial expected to last four days

CEDAR RAPIDS — Opening statements will begin Tuesday in the trial for a Cedar Rapids man charged in a 2017 drug robbery that turned deadly.

Donald R. Harris, 31, is charged with first-degree murder, first-degree robbery and going armed with intent.

A jury was selected late Monday in Linn County District Court. The trial is expected to last four days.

Harris, along with two other men — Rayshaun D. Friend, 29, and James N. Johnson, 31 — went to the home of Tarrance Newman, 40, at 1506 D Ave. NE, in Cedar Rapids, on the night of Nov. 12, 2017, to steal money and drugs, according to a criminal complaint.

No suspects were arrested until eight months after the fatal shooting. Friend was charged in July 2018 with first-degree murder, first-degree robbery and going armed with intent. Harris wasn't charged until January 2019, and Johnson was charged in March with first-degree murder and first-degree robbery.

Court documents show Harris was named as the shooter by a witness, and his DNA was found at the scene. A woman who was at Newman’s house that night told police that after she was texting with Harris and Friend, they came to the house and forced their way inside, according to a search warrant affidavit.

The woman said she was in the kitchen doing dishes when Newman was shot, and she went outside. Friend went after her and “forced” her into a vehicle. An unknown woman was driving the car, she told police. Harris admitted to shooting Newman in the neck, the woman told police. Harris told her he saw Newman “take his last breath.”

Another witness identified Friend as taking part in the robbery, according to a complaint.

Johnson was connected to the fatal shooting by more DNA found at the crime scene.

During a pretrial hearing last week, Harris’ lawyer, Mike Lahammer, said his client denies being the shooter and claims it is one of the others charged.

If Harris is convicted of first-degree murder, he faces life in prison without parole.

Trial for Johnson is set for Jan. 21, and Friend’s trial is Feb. 3.

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