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James Harris III

Other Camden County, New Jersey exonerations
On the night of December 9, 2011, 21-year-old Daquan Hines and 24-year-old Kevin Gould were fatally shot while sitting in the front seats of a car parked in a parking lot at the Pine Ridge apartment complex on Laurel Road in Lindenwold, New Jersey.

On December 16, 2011, federal law enforcement officials arrested 24-year-old James Harris III along with three others on charges of conspiring to rob a drug dealer. Harris and the others were indicted in January 2012 on charges of conspiracy to commit robbery and conspiracy to possess cocaine.

The indictment said that Harris and the others had arranged to rob a drug house with a man who claimed that his suppliers were ripping him off. The man was actually a federal undercover agent. The indictment said that the drug rip-off never occurred, apparently because Harris and his co-defendants became suspicious that they were dealing with an undercover agent.

While in federal custody, a fellow inmate, Kyle Alexander, told authorities that Harris admitted shooting Hines and Gould. On September 18, 2012, Harris was charged with two counts of first-degree murder and unlawful possession of a firearm in connection with the deaths of Hines and Gould.

In October 2012, a jury convicted Harris in U.S. District Court in New Jersey of two counts of conspiracy. He was sentenced to 17 ½ years in prison—a sentence that was later reduced to 15 years and eight months.

In December 2015, Harris went to trial in Camden County Superior Court on the murder charges. The prosecution’s primary witness was Donnell Ancrum, who testified that Gould had called him on the morning of December 9, 2011. Ancrum said Gould said he would be in Ancrum’s part of town to sell some marijuana.

Ancrum said that he was in the back seat of a car with Gould and Hines that evening. Ancrum initially told police that he got out of the back seat when he saw someone approaching. He was walking in front of the car when he heard gunshots, and he ran. He said he called Harris for a ride to get away.

Nine months after his initial statement, and after Ancrum had given two statements to police saying he could not identify the gunman, Ancrum told the prosecution that Harris was the man who got into the back seat and shot Hines and Gould. Ancrum admitted that he stayed with Harris for three nights after the shooting. At trial, Ancrum recanted his identification of Harris and said he was “not sure” who the gunman was. Kyle Alexander testified that when they shared a cell while Harris was awaiting trial on the federal charges, Harris admitted shooting Gould and Hines.

An agent from the FBI testified that cell phone records showed 16 calls between Ancrum and Harris on the day of the shooting, including one shortly before the shooting and five calls afterward. The cell phone location history, according to the prosecution, showed that between 5:13 p.m. and 8:42 p.m., Harris was at home in Sicklerville, New Jersey. At 9:23 p.m., Harris’s phone was in the area where the shooting occurred. Records of Ancrum’s phone showed his phone was also in the area of the shooting at that time. By 9:26 p.m., both Harris’s and Ancrum’s phones were outside the crime scene area.

The prosecution also presented a photograph from Harris’s cell phone from October 29, 2011, several weeks before the shooting. The photo depicted two handguns, and three boxes of ammunition. The founder and CEO of Hi-Point Firearms testified that one of the guns was a .380-caliber semi-automatic pistol and the ammunition was .380-caliber bullets. He also testified that he designed the .380-caliber to be the only pistol in the world which had “nine lands and grooves with a left hand twist.”

A police officer testified that the ballistics tests showed the victims were shot with .380-caliber bullets, and that an analysis showed the bullets had nine lands and grooves with a left hand twist. The prosecution argued that this was the gun used to kill Hines and Gould.

The jury began deliberating during the afternoon of December 10, 2015. No verdict was reached. On December 17, following five days of deliberation, the jury reported it was unable to reach a unanimous verdict. Three times that day, the jury reported it was deadlocked.

The defense requested a mistrial, which was denied. The jury was excused and ordered to return on December 18.

That day, while the jury was deliberating, Harris’s father, James Harris Jr., was in the hallway outside the courtroom. He was talking about his son’s case when he was approached by Alhaji Mustapha.

Mustapha, who was at the courthouse on an unrelated matter, said that he was in the parking lot when he heard gunshots, and saw Ancrum run from the parking lot and jump a fence. Ancrum was carrying a black bag, Mustapha said.

On December 18, 2015, the jury resumed deliberations at 9:15 a.m. Fifteen minutes later, the jury said it had reached a verdict. As the guilty verdict was announced, juror number five began crying. Other jurors, including number four, also began to cry. After the news of the verdict was reported, juror number four “liked” a comment on a social media post that said, “Donnell Ancrum got away with murder.”

Prior to sentencing, Harris’s attorney filed a motion for a new trial based on a statement from Mustapha. The motion was denied. Harris was sentenced to 75 years in prison with the proviso that the sentence would be served after he completed his federal sentence.

Harris appealed. On November 15, 2018, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court reversed the conviction. The court ruled that the photograph of the guns and ammunition should not have been allowed into evidence because the photograph was taken on a date outside the dates specified in the search warrant.

The warrant for Harris’s phone sought records from December 1 to December 16, 2011. The cell phone company had provided records dating farther back, and they included the October 2011 photo of the guns and ammunition. The court said that because the photo of the guns and ammunition was from outside the parameters of the search warrant, it was improperly entered into evidence.

The appeals court noted that the prosecution considered the evidence significant. During closing argument, the trial prosecutor had pointed to the importance of the photo “at least fourteen different times,” the court said. The prosecutor called it a “huge piece of evidence. It doesn’t lie. It’s objective. It’s so strong it proves [Harris is] guilty,” the court noted.

“This is it,” the prosecutor told the jury. “This is the gun that was used to kill Daquan Hines and Kevin Gould. It’s right there because the defendant had it six weeks prior and he kept it all that time and six weeks later he used it to kill these two kids.”

The appeals court vacated Harris’s conviction and ordered a new trial.

On January 20, 2023, the prosecution filed a motion to dismiss the murder charges against Harris. In the motion, the prosecution noted that at a retrial, the cell phone photograph of the gun would not be allowed, and Ancrum was expected to continue to recant his identification of Harris. Moreover, the New Jersey Attorney General had subsequently issued revised guidelines for the use of jailhouse informants, which prohibited the use of Alexander.

“For all of the aforementioned reasons, the State will not be able to prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt at trial,” the motion said.

The motion was granted on January 20, 2023. Harris remained incarcerated on the federal conviction.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 4/6/2023
Last Updated: 4/6/2023
State:New Jersey
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Weapon Possession or Sale
Reported Crime Date:2011
Sentence:75 years
Age at the date of reported crime:24
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No