A Morristown man who admitted fatally hitting a friend with a brick on the steps of the town’s train station in 2021 will serve 18 years in state prison, a state Superior Court judge ruled Thursday.
Lamar Harris, 34, was originally charged with murder and facing life in prison, but he will instead serve just under the mid-term for first-degree manslaughter, a felony that carries a 10 to 30 years. behind bars. Harris, who admitted stealing money from victim Matthew Palla, 60, of Morristown on March 28, 2021, after punching him, will also serve a concurrent sentence for theft.
State Superior Court Judge Stephen Taylor’s sentence took into consideration what the prosecutor and defense attorneys were looking for.
Christopher Schellhorn, a Morris County supervising assistant prosecutor, asked for 20 years, saying the amended offer balanced the seriousness of the crime with documented struggles, including cognitive difficulties, endured by Harris as a child and as an adult. Defense attorney Elizabeth Martin asked for a 16-year sentence, saying Harris was remorseful and did not at the time consider that his actions would result in his friend’s death.
Harris is “haunted” by his friend’s death every day and was under the influence of cocaine and alcohol at the time – which likely hampered Harris’ poor decision not to call the police, Martin said.
Martin also spoke about the difficulties Harris faced growing up as well as several mental disorders, including a seizure disorder and epilepsy. Harris was also diagnosed with lead poisoning as a child and was “neglected” growing up while his father served a 15-year prison sentence, Martin said.
Harris’ actions were, in part, fueled by his drug addiction and immaturity, which she says led him to dislike the consequences of his actions.
THE PARK REOPENING:Boonton reopens Pepe Field after two years of $525,000 renovation at former Superfund site
LOCAL:State wants lawsuit dismissed saying soldiers beat wrongfully accused Wayne man on Route 80
Palla’s family was not present in court, but they shared a statement with the court which was read by prosecutors which described him as a beloved father, uncle and big brother.
“He loved listening to Jackson Brown and the Eagles,” the statement read. “He was a beautiful soul who could laugh at the simplest stupidity and just wanted to smile. He would give the shirt off his back to a stranger, generous to the fault.”
Prosecutors said Palla bought Harris pizza at 7-Eleven on Morris Street minutes before she died.
“This case is tragic in the most literal sense in that it was the victim’s own generosity that led to his death,” Schellhorn said. “The defendant targeted the victim and killed him for no more than several hundred dollars.”
“The victim was killed because she was nothing more than a generous and kind spirit,” Schellhorn said.
Although defense attorneys said Harris picked up a brick while arguing with Palla, prosecutors said Harris armed himself with a brick from the ongoing construction site of the train station about half a mile away. from the main platform of the station, with the intention of hitting the victim.
Harris grabbed a piece of yellow paper and read his scribbled words on it, saying he was “completely stressed” and had “taken the loss very hard”.
“He’s one of the nicest, kindest people you’ll ever meet,” Harris said of Palla, adding that he had been her best friend. “He’s a very generous person, a very generous person.”
The judge said he believed Harris was remorseful and had ‘no doubt’ he had a difficult upbringing, but said he needed to focus on the seriousness of the crime to ensure the community protection. He said Harris put “more thought” behind the crime, and it was not done spontaneously. He did not factor Harris’ alcohol or drug use into the sentence, nor his mental disabilities, his IEPs at school, his epilepsy and seizures, nor the fact that his father was in prison for the sexual assault of his sister.
Police responded to Morristown station on Morris Street around 12:30 a.m. on March 29, 2021, after several people reported finding Palla’s body on the station’s main platform. Palla suffered blunt force trauma to her face and head, and a bloody brick was found nearby, police said.
Palla was killed between 11:31 p.m. and 11:34 p.m. on March 28, 2021, when Harris was seen on surveillance video leaking from the station, according to court records.
Harris, who was temporarily homeless, was arrested on March 31, 2021, while sleeping on a train station bench. Police said he was found with a sock, jacket and shoe covered in blood.
A clerk inside 7-Eleven told police that Palla had $800 in her possession and was doing it “nonchalantly,” former Harris defense attorney Brittany Calzone said during a court filing. a hearing shortly after his arrest.
Defense attorneys argued earlier in the case that there was no evidence that Harris committed the crime because he lacked DNA, fingerprints and witnesses. Prosecutors used CCTV to bolster their case, although no video was captured at the station.
Harris will have to serve 85% of his sentence before being eligible for parole, which is 15 years, three months and 19 days. He was recognized for 498 days already served in the Morris County Jail.
Lori Comstock can be reached on Twitter: @LoriComstockNJH, on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/LoriComstockNJH or by phone: 973-383-1194.