DELAWARE COUNTY, Ohio (WCMH) — After claiming his rights were violated during trial, an Ohio appeals court has upheld a murder conviction against a 37-year-old man who bludgeoned a Columbus woman to death in 2019.
The Delaware County Court of Appeals rejected Thursday the attempts of Justin Eastman, of Columbus, to appeal a lower court’s May 2021 decision that sentenced him to life in prison for the aggravated murder of 53-year-old Donna Harris, according to court records.
“We fought hard as a trial team to ensure this dangerous and violent man would spend the rest of his life in prison for what he did to Donna Harris,” the Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office said in a Facebook post. “This decision not only affirms our work as the trial team, but it affirms what we all know — Justin Eastman is a murderer.”
Eastman petitioned the appellate court to reverse the lower court’s decision, claiming his due process rights to a fair trial had been violated on various occasions, including when the jury was shown photos of a victim memorial at the crime scene, according to court records. The 37-year-old defendant also pointed to testimony made by detectives and a jailhouse informant during the trial, some of which Eastman argued was made “for the purpose of eliciting incriminating remarks,” tampering with his right to remain silent.
But the Delaware County appellate court rejected Eastman’s claims, finding no reason to overturn the trial court’s aggravated murder conviction. After Harris was reported missing in November 2019, her body — which sustained blunt force trauma to the head — was found dead four days later in a remote, rural area off Sherman Road, according to the prosecutor’s office.
“Donna Harris was left face down, her body lying on top of a sheet and bed skirt, bludgeoned to death, and alone in a field,” Delaware County Prosecutor Melissa Schiffel said. “No person should have to suffer that fate, and no family should ever have to experience the devastating loss of a loved one in such a traumatic way.”
During a seven-day trial, jurors learned that Eastman, who was in a relationship with Harris at the time of her death, was the last known person to see her alive. Court records indicate that Eastman maintained a relationship with Harris in order to “obtain some part of the settlement she received for a disability claim.”
Another woman with whom Eastman had a relationship at the time of Harris’s death was Ashley Quick, who told police that Eastman lured Harris to the area on the guise of a fishing trip, where he intended to rob her and leave her stranded, according to court documents.
Quick said Eastman joked that if Harris did not give him the money, he would “snap her neck.”
“The evidence we have indicates that this wasn’t a momentary decision, but that he had planned it out and thought about it in advance,” prosecutor Mark Sleeper said during Eastman’s first court appearance.
After killing Harris, Eastman reportedly left Ohio, “creating a trail of purchases” using the 53-year-old victim’s debit card. Eastman was arrested one day after Harris’s body was found during a traffic stop in Kansas, according to court records.