After an evening of drinking and crack cocaine last year, Lamar A. Harris took $800 from an acquaintance and, during the ensuing argument, clocked him with a brick and left him mortally wounded on a stairwell at the Morristown train station.
Harris, 34, admitted those actions Wednesday in Superior Court, where he pleaded guilty to first-degree aggravated manslaughter and theft in connection with the killing of 60-year-old Morristown resident Matthew Palla, whose body was found early on March 29, 2021.
The blow was struck with force, Harris affirmed to Judge Stephen Taylor.
“He fell on the ground and then I took the money and ran… He was bleeding…I ran out of the train station…I got caught two days later at the Morristown train station,” Harris told the judge.
In exchange for the guilty plea, Morris County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Christopher Schellhorn Jr. agreed to downgrade the charges from first-degree murder and robbery, and to dismiss weapons charges.
Harris faces up to 35 years in prison when sentenced next month.
Schellhorn is asking for 20 years, with a concurrent five-year term for the theft. Under the “No Early Release Act,” Harris would serve 85 percent of his sentence before becoming eligible for parole. Once freed, Harris would be on probation for five years.
Morris County Deputy Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Martin seeks a 16-year sentence for Harris, who has agreed to pay $800 restitution to Palla’s family.
Handcuffed and shackled at the ankles, wearing a COVID mask and a Morris County Jail orange jumpsuit, Harris acknowledged he had been hanging out and drinking with Palla–identified in court as “M.P.”– on the evening of March 28, 2021. Harris also admitted using crack cocaine.
Prior testimony from others indicated the pair ate pizza together at a 7-Eleven, where Palla flashed a wad of $100 bills, before walking past the M Station office construction site to the train station.
Harris, a 2007 Morristown High School graduate, was homeless and frequenting the train station around the time of the crime. Quietly, he answered “Yes, Ma’am” or “Correct” to a series of chilling questions Martin read into the record at Wednesday’s 20-minute proceeding in Morristown:
- After the money was taken from M.P., you and him had an argument, is that correct?
- And during that argument, you picked up a brick and you hit him over the head with that brick, is that correct?
- After you hit him over the head with a brick you left him there, in the Morristown train station, is that correct?
- And while leaving him there, you would have an extreme indifference to the value of his human life. Is that correct?
- And when you left the Morristown train station, you never called 911?
- And later you learned that he in fact died as a result of you hitting him over the head with a brick. Is that correct?
- So you are guilty of an aggravated manslaughter, is that correct?
Harris told the judge he is not suffering from any mental health issues. His prior record includes a theft conviction, three shoplifting convictions, and a probation violation; he had completed a probationary term shortly before the killing.
His last jobs were as a dishwasher at a nursing home and a maintenance man at a gym. He has a 20-year-old daughter.
Bloody sneakers and security camera videos tied Harris to the bludgeoning, the prosecution asserted over the course of several hearings.
“I just want for this to be over with,” Harris said, as he waited for Morris County Sheriff’s Officers to return him to jail.