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Published: Saturday, 11/18/2006

Harris guilty in robbery, slaying

BY MARK REITER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

James Harris, Jr., stood emotionless last night as the verdicts finding him guilty of all counts in the fatal shooting of a 35-year-old father of three boys were read in Lucas County Common Pleas Court.

Harris, 20, was convicted of aggravated murder and aggravated robbery in the Feb. 1 homicide of Rodney Coley at his home on Bryn Mawr Drive in West Toledo.

The trial began Monday and went to the jury late Thursday, concluding just after 6 p.m. yesterday, when the panel members handed their verdict forms to Judge James Barber, of Fulton County.

Jurors also returned guilty verdicts on gun specifications for the two crimes in Mr. Coley's death and convicted Harris on a burglary charge and two counts of receiving stolen property in an unrelated crime spree.

"We miss Rodney, but the verdict ain't going to bring him back. He was a good father, uncle, nephew, and hard worker," Ivan Coley, a younger brother of the victim, said in an interview outside the courtroom.

J. Christopher Anderson, an assistant county prosecutor, said he was surprised at the length of the jury deliberations.

"Clearly, the jury worked very hard," he said, adding that the victim's family still has to go through the trial of Harris' co-defendant, Christopher Mason, on Nov. 27. Mason is charged with aggravated murder and aggravated robbery.

Harris, of Nebraska Avenue, could be sentenced by Judge Barber or he could ask to have his punishment imposed by Judge Thomas Osowik, who was assigned to the case.

The sentence from the judge will be a mandatory life sentence with parole eligibility after 23 years, 28 years, or 33 years, or no parole eligibility. Harris also faces an additional 11 years on the burglary and receiving stolen property offenses.

"The least he can get is 23 years in prison," Mr. Anderson said.

Mr. Coley, a street department employee for the city of Toledo, went to the door about 10:30 p.m. Feb. 1. He was hit once in the chest after the defendant fired a 357-caliber revolver into the glass and wood door.

Dante Boone, who is charged with murder, testified he went to the residence with Harris and Mason, who knocked on the door, and asked for a woman who he knew didn't live there. Harris then fired into the door.

Authorities arrested the trio the next day at a home in the 13000 block of Frankfort Road in Spencer Township near Swanton after they allegedly pulled into the driveway to hide the guns used in the crime. The revolver that was used to kill Mr. Coley was found partially hidden in a window well outside the house, and the handgun that Mason allegedly brandished was found in the garage.

In testifying in his own defense, Harris claimed he shot the victim after a scuffle ensued between him and Mason.

A sentencing date for Harris has not been scheduled.

Contact Mark Reiter at:

markreiter@theblade.com

or 419-213-2134.



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