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Police: Dad intentionally left child in hot car

MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) - Justin Ross Harris was a devoted and loving father who talked about his toddler son often, his friends and family say. But prosecutors have portrayed him as a man unhappy in his marriage who exchanged nude photos with several women as his son died in a hot SUV.

Harris, 33, faces murder and child cruelty charges in the June 18 death of his 22-month-old son Cooper, who police say was left in a vehicle for about seven hours on a day when temperatures in the Atlanta area reached at least into the high 80s. The medical examiner's office has said the boy died of hyperthermia - essentially overheating - and has called his death a homicide.

During a three-hour hearing Thursday, prosecutor Chuck Boring questioned a police detective at length, outlining evidence he said proves Harris intentionally left his young boy in the hot SUV. But defense attorney Maddox Kilgore argued the evidence was insufficient and that the boy's death was a tragic accident.

A judge declined at the end of the hearing to grant Harris bond, meaning he will remain in jail as law enforcement officers continue to investigate and present their findings to the Cobb County district attorney, who will decide how to proceed with the case.

Alex Hall and Winston Milling, who have both been friends with Harris since college and worked with him at Home Depot, testified that Harris talked all the time about how he loved his son. The two went to lunch with Harris the day the boy died and had planned to go to a movie after work that day.

"Nothing stuck out," Hall said. "Nothing was weird."

The two men later dropped Harris off so he could put a couple of light bulbs he had purchased in his car.

Kilgore, the defense attorney, said that showed Harris did not mean to leave the boy there.

"Why would he take his closest friends to his crime scene?" he asked.

Kilgore said Harris had also sent his wife a text that afternoon asking, "When are you going to pick up my buddy?"

And Harris described himself to police as a doting father who always kissed his son when he strapped him into the car seat because "he wanted Cooper to know his daddy loves him," Cobb County Police Detective Phil Stoddard testified.

Harris is a native of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and moved to Georgia in 2012 to work for Home Depot.

Harris told police that on the day of the boy's death, he had watched cartoons in bed with Cooper, then had breakfast with him at a Chick-fil-A restaurant. Surveillance video from the restaurant showed a child who "appeared wide awake and happy," Stoddard said. Harris told police he forgot to drop the boy off at day care, instead driving straight to work.

Harris told police he realized the boy was still in the car as he drove to the movies after work. A defense witness testified that Harris appeared to be extremely upset after pulling into the parking lot, trying to do CPR on his son.

"He was saying, 'Oh my God, oh my God, my son is dead, oh my God,'" witness Leonard Madden said.

But Stoddard, the detective, said witness accounts were not consistent. Harris never called 911 but was on his cellphone when officers arrived, Stoddard said. Harris twice refused an officer's request to get off the phone and was arrested when he used profanity, Stoddard said. Harris showed no emotion while being interviewed by investigators, Stoddard said.

Evidence uncovered by investigators shows Harris was unhappy in his marriage and was practically leading a double life, Stoddard said. He was exchanging nude photos with several women, including at least one teenager, even on the day his son died when he was at work, Stoddard said.

Kilgore, the defense attorney, said that evidence had no bearing on Harris' intent.

"I think the real purpose of all that is to publicly shame him," Kilgore said.

Kilgore also said Harris and his family will have to deal with what he called a catastrophic accident for the rest of their lives. Harris, who was stoic through most of the hearing, began crying at that point.

In the weeks before the boy's death, the man also had looked at a website that advocated against having children and had done an Internet search for "how to survive in prison," the detective said.

"I think the evidence now is showing intent," Stoddard said. He said Harris should remain in jail because he is a flight risk: There is evidence he was leading a double life, he has family in Alabama, and the former 911 dispatcher has law enforcement experience.

Scores of reporters and some curious members of the public were at the hearing just outside Atlanta, where police and prosecutors laid out the most detailed account yet of their case against Harris. Some of Harris' supporters also were in the courtroom, as was his wife.

Many were surprised and there was some public outcry when police immediately arrested Harris and charged him with murder in his son's death, and that may be one reason the prosecution presented so much of its findings at Thursday's hearing, said Georgia State University law professor Jessica Gabel, who attended the hearing.

"We can always say that publicity and emotion doesn't matter, but I think the reason the prosecution came out swinging today is because of the criticism," she said.

Join the discussion

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johnw9540 July 04 2014 at 8:32 AM

I have forgotten my wallet, to pay my electric bill and my mother's maiden name. I have never forgotten my kid.

Flag Reply +62 rate up
7 replies
bankertl53 July 04 2014 at 8:31 AM

IMO, this pathetic POS should be put into a vehicle and left exactly the same way in which he did his son. That said, by the time the judge finishes instructions to the jury, the defense attorneys finish their story spinning, and worst of all the jury, made up in the American selection process deliberates, he has every chance of not being convicted. The Casey Anthony case all over again in many respects.

Flag Reply +47 rate up
9 replies
addresses2me July 04 2014 at 8:16 AM

I realize you can forget things like your keys in the ignition and almost immediately acknowledge they are there, but, HOW DOES ONE "FORGET" THEIR CHILD IS IN THE CAR FOR SEVEN HOURS?! RIDICULOUS!!!

Flag Reply +45 rate up
2 replies
Trish addresses2me July 04 2014 at 1:35 PM

He also had life insur. on the baby, he's not even close to being a slig, so he should be steped on and good riddence to "it".

Flag Reply +1 rate up
1 reply
beasmommom Trish July 04 2014 at 4:11 PM

Yeah, but not that much, really. I'm surprised it wasn't more. I don't think the insurance feeds into this case heavily. Maybe it would have paid their bills. Who knows? We will find out more, I am sure!

Flag 0 rate up
pdrpff57f addresses2me July 04 2014 at 5:28 PM

He should be put in a car, with his cell phone so he can sext while dying a painful death...prison is way to good for this low live!!!

Flag Reply 0 rate up
1 reply
jim willeford pdrpff57f July 04 2014 at 10:36 PM

You clearly have no respect for the rule of law....

Flag 0 rate up
conniewray62 July 04 2014 at 8:59 AM

Why didn't the daycare call either parent when Cooper did not show up at all? Isn't it normal that day care is notified when you're not going to bring your child in? Why hasn't any daycare facility put those safety checks in place? If this was in place it would further incriminate the couple and show first degree intent.

Flag Reply +38 rate up
13 replies
zygi & paris July 04 2014 at 9:05 AM

Lawyers will defend a pig for money. They have no conscience.

Flag Reply +37 rate up
6 replies
Dan July 04 2014 at 8:25 AM

FORGOT to drop his son off at day care? DIDN'T REALIZE the lad was still in the car? Devoted and loving father? Baloney! This poor excuse for a man is either a very bad liar or is severely mentally deficient or perhaps was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time which is 100% inexcusable when a child is in your care. If not murder, this creepazoid is at the very least guilty of criminal negligence and should never again in his life be allowed to have any child in his care. Odd that if he'd fondled a child, he'd be on a pervert registry for life and never again allowed near children yet for this horrile crime he may still be alowed to have and care for a child. & yes, I call this a CRIME. 2 + 2 = 5 is a mistake but leaving a helpless child alone in a hot van to die is a crime and "Oops, I forgot" is no excuse!

Flag Reply +34 rate up
3 replies
pete July 04 2014 at 9:03 AM

This is what leathal injection is for!, ....NOW

Flag Reply +32 rate up
4 replies
hpycmpr155 July 04 2014 at 8:14 AM

Casey Anthony all over again.

Flag Reply +31 rate up
4 replies
Hello Gorgeous! July 04 2014 at 9:03 AM

An eye for an eye. Leave this piece of garbage in a locked car for 7 hours during a 90 degree+ day; then I guarantee he will show some kind of emotion during his slow death.

Flag Reply +27 rate up
7 replies
ladmer July 04 2014 at 9:25 AM

I remember my toddlers many years ago. If five minutes went by, and I had not seen them I would go in a panic attack. I still day dream those days.
Happy July 4th everyone!

Flag Reply +22 rate up
7 replies
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