Iowa Supreme Court Orders New Trial in Murder and Arson Case

August 27, 2007

The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday threw out the arson conviction of a man alleged to have set fire to a car containing the body of a murdered Chicago man.

Kevin Kawanzel Harris, 27, will get a new trial because he was denied his right to speak with an attorney and was not allowed to talk with his brother, the court said.

In his new trial, prosecutors will not be able to use Harris’ confession, the court said.

The decision overturned a district court judge and the Iowa Court of Appeals. In the decision written by Supreme Court Justice Michael Streit, the court said Harris repeatedly asked to talk with an attorney but Cedar Rapids Police Detective Doug Larison continued the questioning and at one point said “You don’t trust us enough to do it without a lawyer?”

“We find Kevin Harris’ Fifth Amendment right to the presence of an attorney was violated when the detective continued to interrogate him after he invoked this right,” the court said.

The court also determined that Harris’ right under Iowa law to contact a family member was violated when he was denied a request to call his brother.

As a result of those violations, the court ordered a new trial and said statements he made during the police interviews cannot be used as evidence.

The case involves the death of Joseph Harris, whose burned body was found inside a car on Jan. 6. 2003 in Cedar Rapids.

Joseph Harris had three bullet wounds to the head.

Police arrested Kevin Harris and Miquel Jones, 28.

Jones pleaded guilty to second-degree arson, obstruction of justice and possession of cocaine. He is serving a 10-year prison sentence at the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility.

Kevin Harris was questioned by police and even though he asked to talk to an attorney and wanted to call his brother, he told police he saw Jones kill Joseph Harris while the three sat in the car.

Kevin Harris said he poured gasoline over the interior of the car and set it on fire because he feared Jones also would kill him.

Harris was convicted of arson and obstruction of justice by a judge in Linn County.

He appealed the conviction saying the judge should not have allowed the details in the police interrogation to be used because his rights were violated.

State prosecutors argued that Harris’ request for an attorney was either ambiguous or he waived his right to an attorney by continuing to talk with the detective.

In his opinion, Streit, cites the 1966 landmark case, Miranda v. Arizona, in which the U.S. Supreme Court established that a person taken into custody must be warned that they have a right to remain silent and that comments made can be used against them. In addition, they must be notified of their right to an attorney and provided the opportunity to visit with an attorney before being questioned.

In the simplest language, Streit’s opinion begins with the question: “What does a suspect in custody need to do to invoke his right to an attorney? He just needs to ask for one.”

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