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Aaron Harris murder trial underway

Cerro Gordo County Courthouse
Cerro Gordo County Courthouse

by Jody Spear –

MASON CITY – After a day of deciding on a jury, the trial of Aaron John Harris, 36, who is charged with First Degree Murder started Wednesday morning at the Cerro Gordo County Court House.

Harris, a Mason City resident, is accused of killing 40-year-old Sarah Winters on July 10, 2012 at 410 N. Washington Avenue. The state medical examiner’s office ruled that Winters’ death was homicide caused by strangulation.

Shortly before 9:00 am, Harris was escorted into the courtroom and seated beside his lawyer, Susan Flander. Harris looked around the room to see who was all there. He nodded to someone, not seeming to know the severity of the day. The defense is going with a diminished responsibility and intoxication defense.

The twelve jurors and one alternate, seven women and six men, entered the room and took their seats and the Judge was introduced. The charges against Harris were read and the attorneys started their opening statements.

Cerro Gordo County Attorney, Carlyle Dalen, opened with, “We will show the deliberate, pre-meditation, with the intend to kill and that he (Harris) is guilty of First Degree Murder.” Dalen told of the interview between Harris and Officer Prochaska on the morning of July 10. How he had strangled Winters, and actually showing the Officer how he did it by getting on top of him and going through the motions.

Flanders talked about the emotional and mental state of mind in which Harris was in the day before, that night and during the interview with Officer Prochaska and how alcohol played a part.

At 9:30 am, the first of sixteen witnesses, took the stand. Mr. Ramlahken Hilton, manager of 410 N. Washington boarding house, confirmed that Harris did call him in the early morning hours saying, “I killed Sarah.” Hilton said he asked if he should call the police, “He started laughing and said, “No, I’m joking.”

410 North Washington after the murder
410 North Washington after the murder

“He (Harris) then asked if he could use my white truck. I know Sarah has a car, so I did get suspicious. I called another tenant of the house, Chris Smith and got a hold of his girlfriend, Vickie Johnson. I told her the situation and asked if she’d go over and check on Aaron.”

Hilton also confirmed, for Flanders, that Harris was drinking the night of the murder.

Vickie Johnson took the witness stand at 9:50 am. She confirmed what Hilton said. Johnson and her daughter were at Taco Bells when the call came at 12:13 am. They went over to see if they could get Chris Smith to check on Aaron.

Johnson said, “My daughter, Danielle, said she’d run up to find Chris. She came back running, her body going faster than her legs. She was scared and wanted to leave. She told me what she saw and I called 911.”

At this time, they played the call to 911 for the jury.

Assistant Iowa Attorney General, Douglas Hammerand, who is assisting Dalen questioned Danielle Roath, 15, but only 14-years-old at the time of the murder. “Aaron was friends with my mom and her ex-boyfriend, Chris Smith. We had a couple cookouts together,” said Roath, when asked if she knew Harris.

“I saw Aaron dragging Sarah’s body,” said Roath. Roath went into details on the house set-up, how she got in and how she happened to witness the act. “She was bloated and had blood coming out of her mouth.”

There was a short recess after Roath’s testimony. More witnesses were expected, starting with Randy Axiotis.

It was said that the trial is expected to last about a week.

Aaron Harris

Video interview with witness:


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Brian Harris is a person who should never have been released from supervised inpatient treatment. We need mental health care institutions back in this country. This man should never have had access to street drugs or alcohol. This murder happened due to the failure of our mental health system as well as poor choices made by a mentally ill man. When are we going to start protecting ourselves from people like this? People like Harris and Klunder cannot be afforded the same freedom of the pursuit of happiness that most people enjoy because they are sick and become criminally insane when handed those freedoms.


“1. Many witnesses exist to testify to Aaron’s abnormal psychology that were not called and could be called to the stand.”

Were the considered credible enough by the Defense? Or are you second guessing the defense lawyer?

” 1.1 Many incidents of psychological abnormality exist in Aaron’s past that would reveal to the jury a person who at times completely loses his mind and acts without pre-meditation.”

Would it be admissible in trial? Or would it have been more appropriate in pre-trial pleadings of insanity?

“. Law Enforcement should be REQUIRED to administer substance abuse tests to any suspects arrested in homicides.”

Under what law? Unless the arrest is due to use of a substance which under law is prohibited, such as drunk/impaired driving, how does Law Enforcement not get into a Fourth Amendment controversy? And what Judge or magistrate approve such a warrant?

“4. Statements made while in the throes of intoxication don’t exactly represent the truth as to time, and whether or not they actually occurred as remembered.”

Miranda! Unless there was absolute proof that a Mirandized subject was not of sound mind, and his refusal of counsel under Miranda was tainted under guidelines set forth by the courts.

” 7. The mental health system charged with Mr. Harris’s treatment and monitoring needs more light shed upon it. The doctors and counselors in the Mason City are need more light shed upon them, and this would occur had Ms. Flander called Aaron’s doctors in Mason City to the stand, rather than relied solely on a college professor in Ames who has merely a scholarly rather than practical approach to Mr. Harris’s situation.”

This supposes you know the contents of the defendant’s medical file. You are treading legal waters here if you reveal any of it without a real need to know. And to divulge same is criminal.

Finally: “No attorney save for great sum of money would work on behalf of a guilty client, so essentially the defense provided by attorney’s such as Flander is a sham, and invalid.”

Proving this before a court of law, would likely prejudice yourself. A court would need material evidence of neglect on the part of the defense before the would issue a re-trial. You have offered nothing admissible thus far, other than opinion. I say that because from outward appearances, you are not a party to the trial or defense, and thus have no way of knowing what is contained in information not offered in the trial as evidence. In other words, you are guessing at what information the defense lawyer had.

@Observer-Wow, I guess that answers that.

“”And I say this”” and this, and this, and this,and this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and this and then that, then some more of this.

Enough already. Its apparent to the entire world, you are the smartest person you know. Thank you and have a safe weekend too.

@Peter L.-It is disappointing to me that you were not allowed to present you case without someone turning it into a personal account. I appreciate the detail you put into your post and found it to be informative. After reading your post I now have a better understanding of the mental health problems that most people are no aware of. Please keep on posting and do not let the actions of a few stop you. Now, that said, it doesn’t mean I won’t disagree with you from time to time. If you are Peter L, (and I think you are) try to stay away from saying anything negative about our veterans. I think that is what angered a lot of people last time as most of us are very grateful for their service. It is not their responsibility for what the government does.

@Peter L. Not trying to open old wounds here. Just being supportive of you after the unsolisted attack on you for simply posting your views.

No problem here Peter L. You have inferred that you know more than Ms. Flander, so I’m asking; since you attended the entire trial with the exception of the 3 hours you missed one day, then who in your opinion knows more about this case then you? i.e. who would be smarter than you about this? Get it? Slammed…blindly, I hardly think so. I think you are missing my point.

As for your 9:31 AM post, where you say — And for a detractor to say “Thank you, and have a safe weekend too”, obviously reveals your sarcasm, and possible threat? Why would you be concerned for my safety? Sarcasm and possible threat, seriously, really??? Again, I feel you are trying to hard to look for something that isn’t really there. I simply wished for you to have a safe weekend is all. Wouldn’t you have thought bad of me if I were to have said I wished you a terrible weekend filled with the sounds of loud motorcycles? In my opinion, that would have been uncalled for.

What’s so bad is that if you can’t afford an attorney one will be appointed to you.

What they DON’T tell you that later on the judge orders you to pay those attorney’s fees or you go to jail.

Paying for Flander is like paying for a dead horse.

So how much did YOU have to pay for her, LBS? And how many of your crimes did you request a court-appointed lawyer for?

What you did not mention is that you only had to pay less than half the price you would have paid for a private attorney. Us taxpayers picked up the rest of the tab.

I’ve never committed crimes against society, however society did commit crimes against me. The same judge who issued a search warrant to my home later declared the same search warrant to be unconstitutional. I didn’t have Flanders or I’d be in prison.

I have no other issues, not even a traffic ticket and I don’t pull up at the Iowa Courts online site.

YOU owe me and you’re gonna pay one way or the other and you can take that to the bank.

“YOU owe me and you’re gonna pay one way or the other and you can take that to the bank.”

That’s what yo mama said last night.

But I didn’t owe her, because she said it was going to be free. And I couldn’t take it to the bank, because that would make it too easy for the police to trace.

@Peter L. you are not comparing apples to apples here. In the case of Mrs. Bush there were no charges filed and there was no trial. You are trying to convict her of something that was not proven. It is certainly a long reach on your part and takes away from your arguments.

@Peter L.-OK, based on what you are saying are you advovcating that Harris have a new trial and be found not guilty of killing that woman? Or are you just lobbying for better mental health treatments? Even you said he was guilty. If you want a new trial just to support your feelings on the mental health system, I am against it. There must be less expensive and better ways of bringing out your feelings. If you say the attorney did a bad job I will go along with what you think as you were there and I wasn’t. But, to force a new trial because you say he didn’t get a proper defense due to his mental health is something I can’t agree on. However, I do understand you point.

@Peter L.-you have obviously put a lot of effort and thought into this and are much better versed than I am. I bow to your knowledge. Good luck.

Peter….good posts. I understand your point of view but it may be hard for those that simply want him to be guilty period and not question any of it. He is guilty….period. Did he receive fair trial? Not so sure about that. Even when we feel as passionately about the fact that he is guilty in can be very difficult to recognize the importance of fair trial. Guilty or not, even this horrible act deserves a fair trial. It’s important that we don’t forget that.

“Ms. Flanders loses every case she’s been given…”

I really doubt this is the case, let alone the truth.

Hey Peter L, do you think it is possible that your opinion of Public Defender Sue Flander is tainted by the fact that the Public Defender was your attorney when you were convicted in Criminal #OWOM004496, and when you were convicted in Criminal #22345, and in Criminal #22087, and Criminal #22169? If you had not committed all those crimes, and then made the taxpayers pay for your lawyer, maybe her win-loss record would not be so bad. She did not ask the court to appoint you as her client. You asked the court to appoint the Public Defender.

YOU know what she’s talking about, L.

As was explained to me, two truisms in our legal system.

First, our laws say, evidence not presented in the courtroom, can never be considered when making a decision.

Second, our Constitution guarantees that everyone deserves a defense.

Not sure who Peter is but he has not said where he went to law school or how much experience he has in criminal defense. Didn’t the judge say the statements of Mr. Harris in the video were evidence? Why would he take the stand and have to answer questions from the other side? The defense attorney is very well respected and has won many cases.

Ms. Flander has the reputation of being one of the hardest working attorneys in the area. What law school did you attend?

@Peter L.-Good post and some good points. However, you seem to want to blame the Mental Health Agency’s for this mans bad habits. They were there to try to help him kick the habits, but it is a lot like smoking cigarettes, they won’t quit until they want to and no amount of treatment will change that. People are and should be responsible for their own actions. If he was under the influence when he committed murder (he was found guilty) then it was his doing and his responsibility and only his. No one forced him to drink or do drugs. He did it on his own. You can only help people who want it. Otherwise it won’t work and incarceration may be the only answer. Or else they drink themselves to death. Hopefully before they kill someone else.

@Peter L.-I recognize the writing style and it has been awhile since you have posted on here Peter. I did not say she was a good lawyer, I said he was responsible for his own actions. If being mentally ill was a danger to someone else he should have been put away so he couldn’t hurt anyone, not allowed is society where he was a danger to himself or anyone else. Ultimately, he was still responsible for his actions. He tried to move the body to conceal it so he was well aware that he had killed her and it was wrong. To bad we don’t still have the death penalty in Iowa. It would have save the taxpayers a lot of money.

It doesn’t matter who Peter L is what does matter is that he’s right.
Good post’s Peter!

In my opinion, what is even sadder is that some people can’t or won’t take responsibility for themselves and their own actions. We are all responsible for our actions, not the government. To claim otherwise is crazy.

Peter L. Is that you Peter L??? If so, please let us know.

You went to which law school?

“I’m predicting the jury returns the verdict of Guilty of Murder in the 2nd Degree.”

Yep, nailed it. Good job Ironsides.

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