Newman man charged with murdering fiancé


NEWMAN — The small town of Newman has experienced its first murder in more than 60 years. 

During the early morning hours of Monday, May 20, law enforcement responded to reports of a gunshot in the 300 block of South Shirley Drive where Morgan “MJ” Harris, 24, was pronounced dead on the scene. 

An initial investigation by officers led to the arrest of 41-year-old James W. Haynes. Haynes told police he and Harris were in a relationship and had been engaged for three years.

James W. Haynes
James W. Haynes

It is believed that Haynes fired a single shot from a 9mm Glock handgun at Harris, in the face, at near-point-blank range, according to Douglas County State’s Attorney Robert Kosic.

Kosic said Haynes made the 911 call to dispatch officers. During his call with 911 operators, Haynes said he had been cleaning the firearm when the gun accidentally discharged.

Later in the investigation, Haynes was recorded telling the Illinois State Police he hadn’t started cleaning the gun yet when it accidentally fired. He then admitted to the officers that he had taken out the magazine, reinserted it and pulled the trigger while pointing it at Harris, additionally admitting that his 911 call was not made until 20 minutes after the incident.

Following Haynes’ arrest, the state’s attorney petitioned for Haynes to be held in jail ahead of trial, telling Judge Kate Watson the statements Haynes gave to investigators were “riddled with inconsistencies” in a Douglas County courtroom on May 21.  

Kosic said the defendant had demonstrated a “propensity for extreme violence and deceit” and there were inconsistencies with the defendant’s early stories, adding “You don’t clean a gun right in front of somebody’s face.”

Results from a preliminary autopsy show Harris was shot within 12 to 15 inches of her face, with evidence of stippling on her skin.

Haynes told police the couple’s relationship was “great” and expressed surprise when officers told him Harris’ brother had received a text message from his sister saying she planned to leave Haynes on Monday.

In a conflicting report presented by Kosic, Haynes later admitted to investigators that Harris changed her Facebook status from “in a relationship” to “single” on Sunday, May 19, and alleged that Harris told him she was planning on leaving him Monday morning.

The defendant and public defender Mike Zopf chose not to present any argument and the state’s request for detainment was granted, noting the defendant has a prior criminal history.

Haynes’ previous convictions include a 2008 battery conviction for hitting his brother in the head, a 2013 domestic conduct conviction for hitting someone in the head and a 2018 conviction for criminal trespass to a residence.

Currently, Haynes is charged with two counts of first-degree murder, one count of aggravated battery involving a firearm and one count of aggravated domestic battery, if convicted he could see 20 to 60 years in prison. 

A court appearance is scheduled for Friday, May 31 at the Douglas County courthouse.

The public is reminded that all people arrested, or otherwise charged, are presumed innocent until proven guilty in court.

Newman, murder, Harris, Haynes