WASHINGTON, July 3, 2014 – In today’s probable cause hearing, prosecutors outlined a primarily circumstantial but highly damning case for the Marietta, Georgia court to detain Justin Ross Harris and try him for the murder of his son, Cooper Mills Harris. Cooper died on June 18 after being left in the car while his dad went to work.
The prosecution states that evidence is overwhelming that the defendant is guilty of felony murder based on cruelty to children in the second degree. The autopsy of the 22-month-old determined the child died from hyperthermia. Cobb County police said on Wednesday afternoon that the manner of death is consistent with a homicide.
Personally came P M Stoddard who makes oath before a Magistrate of this Court that Justin Ross Harris (hereinafter called the accused) AKA: did, on 6/18/2014 at 04:23 PM at Akers Mill Rd, Atlanta in the County of Cobb, Georgia, commit the offense of CRUELTY TO CHILD 2ND DEGREE(F) violating O.C.G.A, Section 16-5-70(c),for that said accused did with criminal negligence causes a child under the age of 18 cruel or excessive physical or mental pain, to wit: said accused did place his 22 month old male son into a rear facing car seat of his 2011 Hyundai Tucson after eating at 2485 Cumberland Pkwy SE. The car seat was centered on the rear seat of the Tucson.
The authorities reduced the charges from first degree cruelty of a child to second degree child cruelty because the burden of proof is lower in the second degree charge.
Revealed during the proceeding was:
- That both Harris and his wife, Leanna, conducted internet searches on how long it would take for an animal to die in a hot car, saying they were concerned that it could happen to their child.
“During an interview with Justin, He stated that he recently researched, through the internet, child deaths inside vehicles and what temperature it needs to be for that to occur,” search warrants state. “Justin stated that he was fearful that this could happen.”
- That Harris had twice viewed a video showing the painful deaths of animals left in hot cars as well as a video on how to “survive” in prison.
- Harris placed his son in the car seat after eating breakfast at Chick-Fil-A. During breakfast, he actively interacted with Cooper.
- That the child was situated less than six inches from where Harris sat in the drivers seat of the car.
- The time it would take to drive from the Chick-Fil-A to Cooper’s daycare was only about 30 seconds. However, Ross Harris claimed that during that time, he “forgot” that Cooper was in the car and drove to work instead.
- When Harris got to work at a nearby Home Depot corporate office, he left the toddler in the backseat, the warrant states. Harris then went inside the building, leaving the child for more than seven hours. Moreover, police report that Ross Harris went back to the vehicle at lunch but failed to rescue his son.
“During lunch said accused did access the same vehicle through the driver’s side door to place an object into the vehicle,” the warrant states. “Said accused then closed the door and left the car, re-entering his place of business.”
- There is a lack of texting between the parents, the mother asking “did you drop Cooper off?” “Did he eat breakfast?” however Harris did send and receive up to six sext messages, possibly from a minor aged 17, leading to a felony exploitation of a minor charge as well.
The Harris marriage was troubled, plagued by debts, arguments and a husband leading a “double-life” that included sexual texting with minors, including the sharing of explicit photos. Harris reportedly wanted out of the marriage.
The prosecutor says the sexting on the messaging app Kik “goes to the state of mind” of the defendant, Justin Ross Harris. “He wanted to live a child free life,” the prosecutor said.
Cobb County Police Department Detective Phil Stoddard said in testimony that in tests, using a dummy approximately the same size as the deceased child, that the car seat was too small for the child and that child’s head could be seen over the top of the car seat.
- That upon “discovering” his dead child, Harris did not call 911.
- Harris and his wife had taken out two insurance policies on their son, one worth $2,000 taken out through Harris’s employer, Home Depot, and a second worth $25,000 that the couple took out in November 2012.
- When Leanna Harris went to pick her child up at daycare and was told that the child was not there, her response was, “Ross must have left him in the car.”
Defense Attorney H. Maddox Kilgore is outlining how Harris may be guilty of recklessness, a misdemeanor, but not criminal homicide in the death of his son.
He says that Harris could not be guilty because he was not “overly anxious” over lunch and that he had friends drop him off at the car following lunch, during which he tossed the lunchtime purchase into the car, without seeing Cooper Harris, dead in his car seat.
Assistant District Attorney Chuck Boring said that “someone might remember that they left spaghetti in the car after 30 minutes.” Harris had, at some time during the day, received an email from the day care center where Ross was to have been taken.
The question is, was this reckless stupidity or premeditated murder?
The court, under Chief Magistrate Fox, has been persuaded that there was reckless disregard for the child, siting the time from the Chick-Fil-A, and that despite the stench in the car described as overwhelming, Harris drove the car until he stopped where there was a witness present and then “noticed the child”, the judge found that there is probably cause for the felony charge as described in the warrant.
Following the decision to go to trial, Harris’ brother, a police sergeant, was sworn in to testify that Ross had worked as a police dispatcher for the city of Tuscaloosa, Alabama in the bond phase of the proceedings. Prosecution is objecting to bond despite the brother’s and family pastor’s testimony.
Based on the murder charge and the possibility of a life sentence, and the future possibility of a death penalty case, bond was denied. The case will now proceed to the Grand Jury.