Man convicted for 75yrs, for drug killing gets new trial over improper evidence used against him

By Joe Brandt

A panel of appellate judges last week overturned a man’s conviction and 75-year sentence for a double murder in Camden County.

The appeals court, in a published decision, found that a cellphone photo used as evidence in his trial was improperly obtained, and that a motion for a new trial should have been granted upon discovery of a new defense witness who could have undermined the credibility of the state’s case.

James M. Harris, 28, was convicted in 2015 on charges that he shot and killed 24-year-olds Kevin Gould and Daquan Hines inside a car in Lindenwold on Dec. 9, 2011.

A jury had convicted him of the double murder after deadlocking three times in a six-week trial.

According to the state’s key witness in the trial, Donnell Ancrum, the shooting was a drug deal gone bad. He said Gould had called him that morning and offered to sell some marijuana, the appeals decision says.

That night, Hines was in the driver’s seat of a 1995 Toyota Camry and Gould was riding shotgun. Ancrum said he was sitting in the back when a man approached the car, and he got out of the car to let the man in.

Ancrum said he walked around the front of the car when he heard gunshots from inside it, and ran off to call Harris.

“Ancrum ‘thought’ that (Harris) was the gunman, but was not completely certain. Ancrum did not clarify why he would call defendant for a ride if he knew defendant had just entered the car and shot two people,” the appellate judges wrote.

Harris stayed with Ancrum for three nights after the murders.

The state had requested from Sprint, Harris’ cell service provider, all text and call records and the contents of the messages sent between Dec. 1 and Dec. 16. But Sprint sent over all photographs from the phone’s Picture Mail, not just those that fell between those dates.

A Sprint subpoena compliance employee said that it was protocol at the time to send all photos, regardless of date, in response to a warrant for cell data.

A photo from October, in a folder labeled “20111029” (the phone’s way of indicating Oct. 29, 2011) showed two handguns and three boxes of ammunition, including the same Tulammo .380-caliber bullets used in the killings.

The detective who reviewed the warrant response from Sprint testified that he did not know those numbers meant the photo was from outside the date range specified in the warrant, the decision says.

The photo was used in court.

At a new trial, that photo cannot be admitted as evidence, the appellate judges wrote.

The judges also mention the eleventh-hour defense witness, who was prepared to say he saw Ancrum run from the scene carrying a bag of drugs.

The trial judge said at the time that the defense witness’ statements could possibly support Ancrum’s involvement in the crime, but not negate Harris’ guilt. The appellate court chose not to weigh this claim, saying any evidence from that witness would have to come out at the new trial.

The Camden County Prosecutor’s Office did not respond to a request for comment on whether they will retry Harris.

He is serving his New Jersey sentence at an out-of-state facility, a state prison database shows. Before the decision, his parole eligibility date was in 2079.

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