Public Safety

Witness: Defendant said he saw victim 'take his last breath' after drug robbery

Co-defendant who will receive plea deal names Donald Harris as shooter

CEDAR RAPIDS — Donald Harris told several others “I saw him take his last breath” after shooting a man he and two others planned to rob for money and drugs on Nov. 12, 2017.

Rayshaun Friend, 30, testified that Harris told him and James N. Johnson that another friend, Jacey Blackwell, had a “sting” — robbery — for them. Blackwell had a relationship with Tarrance Newman, 40, who had a “wad” of money, Harris said as he planned the robbery that turned deadly for Newman.

Harris is on trial this week in Linn County District Court on charges of first-degree murder, first-degree robbery and going armed with intent. His defense will argue that Friend was the shooter.

Friend, also charged with first-degree murder and first-degree robbery in the case, testified that this was Harris’ robbery, so Friend gave his .40 caliber Glock to Harris. The three men dressed in black and all wore gloves. Friend said Harris wore purple gloves.

The plan was that Harris would be the first one in the door to hold Newman, Friend would go in and take money off Newman, and Johnson would go look for drugs in the house, Friend said.

His former girlfriend — Karah Langager — drove Friend, Harris and Johnson to Newman’s house. Langager stayed in the car, parked down from the house, and the three men went to the door. Harris checked the door, but it was locked. Blackwell told Harris it would be unlocked.

The men started walking down the street when they ran into Blackwell, so she called Newman and told him she was coming back to the house, Friend said. Blackwell knocked on the door and Newman let her in but started to shut it as Harris “rushes” him, followed by Johnson and Friend.

Friend said he then saw Harris pull out the gun and shoot Newman. At that point the door “flies open” and Newman fell forward onto the enclosed porch area before they ran from the scene.

A short time later, they met up at Langager’s vehicle. Friend asked Harris what happened, and Harris said, “I watched him take his last breath. F#$@ him.”

Friend repeatedly said Harris was the only one with a gun that night. He said their intention was to steal money and drugs.

“There wasn’t supposed to be a murder,” Friend testified.

He and Harris, along with the two women, went back to Friend’s residence and showered to get rid of any blood evidence. Friend said he had blood on his clothing and shoes. Johnson went home and showered. They then collected all their clothes, and Langager and Blackwell burned them.

Assistant Linn County Attorney Jordan Schier asked Friend about the plea agreement he was being offered in exchange for his cooperation and testimony.

Friend said he wanted the plea because he didn’t kill anybody and feels bad about the man’s death. Someone’s son and brother is dead, he said.

Friend will plead guilty to three lesser felony charges.

Schier asked if Friend threatened others to say Harris was the shooter or if he talked about this case to one of his fellow jail inmates.

Friend said he didn’t threaten anybody and didn’t talk to the witness who will testify Wednesday.

During cross examination, Mike Lahammer, Harris’ lawyer, brought up numerous inconsistencies in Friend’s version of events when he talked to police and prosecutors during depositions.

“This is the truth now?” Lahammer said.

Friend said he didn’t lie, just left out things.

Lahammer pointed out Friend said Harris was the one texting and calling Blackwell from Friend’s phone because if it was Friend, he would face other consequences for setting up Newman for robbery.

Friend said he didn’t know.

Lahammer said in a previous deposition Friend, under oath, said the gun wasn’t his.

Friend admitted he said that.

Lahammer noted Friend also said Harris had two guns on him that day but that wasn’t true.

Friend said Harris used to carry a gun, but he doesn’t remember saying that.

Blackwell, 24, also took the stand and denied she set up Newman. She was with Newman that night cleaning his house, which he paid her to do. She told Harris and Friend about his money because she owed Harris money, but she told them not to come over.

Blackwell left the house and was walking down the street when Harris and the others were approaching. She said Harris threatened her with the gun and told her to go back to the house with them.

Newman opened the door when Blackwell knocked, but started pushing against the door after the three men tried to follow her inside. Newman told her to run as Harris got partially inside. As she ran toward the kitchen, she heard the gunfire.

After they were back at Friend’s residence, Blackwell said Harris, in a bragging way, told her he shot Newman in the neck and watched him “take his last breath.”

Lahammer also went over her multiple versions of events she has told police and in depositions for over a year, but Blackwell said she lied because she was scared.

She said it wasn’t so much a lie but just not telling the whole truth.

The prosecution continues its case Wednesday in Linn County District Court.

Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.