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Cedar Rapids Murder Trial Ends in Guilty Plea Before Closings

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - The first-degree murder trial of Justin Ross ended abruptly in a guilty plea Friday before closing arguments were set to start.

Justin Ross, 19, of Cedar Rapids, pleaded guilty to attempted murder and faces 25 years in prison. He admitted to shooting and killing Andre Herron, 30, of Cedar Rapids, Nov. 26, 2011. Justin Ross will have to serve a mandatory 17 1/2 years before being eligible for parole. He was originally charged with first-degree murder and faced life in prison without parole if convicted.

Assistant Linn County Attorney Jason Besler said the defense came to him with the plea offer before closings. Besler said he thought it was best resolution in this case based on the how the evidence came in.

According to testimony, witnesses didn't see Justin Ross shoot Herron. His ex-girlfriend, Allison Cunningham, testified she saw smoke coming from the gun in his hand but didn't see the actual shooting. Another witness said he told her he shot Herron in the back.

A former cellmate also testified Thursday that Justin Ross bragged about firing the fatal shot that killed Herron.

The defense didn't put on a case, which is the defendant's right because the prosecution has the burden of proof, and rested after the prosecution wrapped up its case Friday morning. The defense during trial claimed Justin's cousin Donovan Ross, 21, of Hiawatha, who is also charged in Herron's death, was the shooter that night.

Donovan Ross' trial is set Oct. 7.