On the surface, the case of Justin Ross Harris seems like every parent’s nightmare: A forgetful dad doesn’t remember to drop off his toddler at day care, accidentally leaving him strapped in a sweltering car during 90-degree weather. When he returns to the car seven hours later, he finds his son dead.
But now police are alleging that the death of 22-month-old Cooper Harris was not an oversight at all, but an act of murder.
In a probable-cause hearing on Thursday in Marietta, Georgia, prosecutors laid out their case against Harris – and the revelations were jaw-dropping.
Prosecutors called lead investigator Phil Stoddard, who testified that Harris exchanged nude photos with several women, including a then-16-year-old girl, on the day his son died.
According to prosecutors, Harris used the messaging app Kik to communicate with at least six different women that day. The conversations were decidedly sexual, including the exchange of explicit pictures. Stoddard testified that Harris sent photos of his genitals to at least one woman.
According to Stoddard, one of the women asked Harris, “Do you have a conscience? He answered, ‘Nope.’ ”
Incriminating Computer Searches
Technicians continue to examine Harris’s phone, as well as his home and work computers. “We’ve barely scratched the surface,” testified Stoddard. “We expect to find much more.”
Stoddard testified that Harris visited the website Reddit frequently. In the weeks before Cooper’s death, Harris visited a forum about “people who die,” which showed videos of deaths, Stoddard said. He also visited a forum called Childfree. “They advocate not having any more children and adding to the biomass,” Stoddard said.
Just five days before Cooper’s death, Harris also accessed a video in which a veterinarian demonstrated the deadly temperatures inside a hot car. According to Stoddard, Harris viewed the video twice.
Stoddard also alleged that Harris used Google to search numerous phrases, including “how to survive in prison” and “age of consent for Georgia.”
‘It Was an Accident’
Stoddard testified that authorities had obtained surveillance video from the parking lot of Harris’s workplace. During lunchtime, Harris approached his vehicle with a bag of light bulbs he had purchased.
“He opened the driver’s side door and tossed them inside,” Stoddard testified, noting that Harris didn’t appear to glance into the back seat, where Cooper was strapped in.
When Detective Stoddard charged Harris with murder, Harris seemed to have studied the law.
“He looked at me and said, ‘But there was no malicious intent,’ ” testified Stoddard. “He said, ‘It was an accident.’ ”
Defense attorney Maddox Kilgore called Leonard Madden to the stand. Madden testified that he had witnessed Harris at the scene where he found his son’s body. According to Madden, Harris began to scream, “Oh my God. My son is dead. My son is dead.” Kilgore also introduced evidence that Harris is deaf in his right ear, and that the child’s car seat was located on that side of the vehicle.
After nearly three hours of testimony, Superior Court Judge Frank Cox denied bond to Harris, who could face the death penalty if convicted.
• With reporting by POLLY POWERS STRAMM