MARIETTA, Georgia: Prosecutors say a man unhappy in his marriage exchanged nude photos with several women as his son died in a hot vehicle, in a criminal case that quickly gained attention across America.
Justin Ross Harris, 33, faces murder and child cruelty charges in the 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 30s. The medical examiner’s office has said the boy died of hyperthermia 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 on June 18. But defense attorney Maddox Kilgore argued the evidence was insufficient and that the boy’s death was a tragic accident.
Alex Hall and Winston Milling, who have both been friends with Harris since college and worked with him at a Home Depot store, 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 with him that day.
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.
Harris told police he forgot to drop the boy off at day care, instead driving straight to work, realizing that 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.
But Stoddard, the detective, said witness accounts were not consistent. Harris never called for help but was on his phone 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.
In the weeks before the boy’s death, Harris 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.