CHICAGO — A Chicago man has been sentenced to 30 years in prison for his involvement in the fatal carjacking of a 73-year-old veteran in 2021. But Frank Harris faces the possibility of even more prison time because prosecutors say he helped kidnap and hold another inmate for ransom while awaiting trial in the Cook County jail.
In July 2021, just two months after Harris received juvenile probation for another vehicular hijacking, he and 17-year-old DuShawn Williams tried to carjack Vietnam vet Keith Cooper in a strip mall parking lot at 1236 East 53rd Street, prosecutors said.
“The victim… survived wars, but didn’t survive his encounter with this defendant,” a prosecutor argued during Williams’ initial bail hearing days after the fatal encounter.
The prosecutor said Cooper, a doting grandfather about to celebrate his 74th birthday, got out of his vehicle and walked toward a CVS when Williams approached him from behind and snatched the keys from his hand. Cooper’s key fob fell to the ground, and Harris picked it up.
Cooper screamed for help and demanded his keys back. The video showed Harris walking up behind Cooper and punching him in the head. Cooper grabbed his head and took a step back as Williams pushed him in the chest, prosecutors claimed.
Harris and Williams, unable to get into the car, ran away as two witnesses called 911.
About two minutes later, Cooper collapsed and stopped breathing. An off-duty paramedic began CPR, but Cooper died a short time later at the University of Chicago Medical Center.
Harris has now pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery, receiving a 30-year sentence Monday from Judge Timothy Joyce, according to court records. Prosecutors dropped multiple counts of murder and other felonies in Harris’ plea deal.
Williams continues to fight the allegations.
Last autumn, while Harris was in jail awaiting trial, he and two other detainees kidnapped a fellow inmate inside the jail and held him for ransom, prosecutors say.
One of the accomplices “invited” the victim, who is awaiting trial for a double murder, into a bathroom. Harris followed them along with a third conspirator, according to the state’s bond proffer.
Harris punched the victim, another bound the man’s hands and ankles with sheets, and the trio proceeded to punch, kick, and stomp the victim, prosecutors said.
The men fetched a tablet detainees use for family video chats, reading, and other activities and forced the victim to call someone who could transfer $1,000 to them via CashApp, the proffer continued.
Prosecutors said the victim called his grandmother, told her his life was in danger, and asked her to transfer money to a specific CashApp account. Before the transaction went through, correctional officers returned to the area to collect tablets for the day, and one of the accomplices untied the victim.
The victim later reported the crime to a jail officer and sought medical treatment for injuries he suffered in the assault.
Like all jailhouse calls, the tablet conversation was automatically recorded and archived by the sheriff’s office, a spokesperson said. Investigators pulled the audio and built a case against Harris and four other men.
He is now facing charges of aggravated kidnapping for ransom and aggravated battery causing great bodily harm. Prosecutors filed identical charges against the two men who allegedly restrained and beat the victim with Harris. Another two men are charged with aggravated kidnapping for ransom but not battery, according to court records.
A sheriff’s office spokesperson said that, while rare, similar incidents occurred in the jail before the tablet program went online last year. In addition to video chats, jail detainees can use the tablets to access an extensive library, general interest information, and educational materials, the spokesperson said.