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Hot Car Murder Trial Reveals Why Victim’s Mom Was a Suspect — But Never Arrested

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The ex-wife of a Georgia dad on trial for murder in his son’s hot car death has also always been a suspect in the case, police testified Wednesday — but she’s no longer being actively investigated.

In the same testimony where he revealed this, Cobb County police detective Phil Stoddard detailed the ex-wife’s odd behavior soon after her son was killed.

However: “No evidence has come forward to bring us up to a level of probable cause that you need to arrest [ex-wife] Leanna Harris,” Stoddard told jurors in Brunswick, Georgia. “We never reached that point.”

Stoddard testified during Justin Ross Harris’ murder trial about the night his young son, Cooper Harris, died in 2014, after spending hours trapped in his dad’s hot car.

Among other oddities, Stoddard said Cooper’s mother, Leanna, never asked to see his body.

It was the evening of June 18, 2014, Stoddard testified. The 22-month-old Cooper had just been found dead, and Justin was in a police interrogation room when his then-wife, Leanna, came to visit him.

But she displayed little emotion, Stoddard testified. Indeed, he said, she didn’t ask to see her son’s body, which he thought was “strange.”

(Stoddard previously testified that Leanna asked her husband, “Did you say too much?”)

Kelly J. Huff/Marietta Daily Journal/AP
Kelly J. Huff/Marietta Daily Journal/AP

In his cross-examination, Justin’s defense attorney, Maddox Kilgore, argued instead that Stoddard has had a theory from the start that Justin and Leanna colluded together to purposefully kill Cooper. “You’re looking for a conspiracy,” Kilgore said.

“You’re looking for nefarious motive, so you’re seeing what you want to see,” Kilgore said.

He emphasized that detectives had found more than 30,000 photos of Cooper on Leanna’s laptop, undercutting the idea that she was out to cause him harm.

“The fact of the matter is that you were dead wrong about Leanna Harris,” Kilgore told Stoddard. “She was in no way involved in a conspiracy with her husband.”

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‘There Was No Malicious Intent’

Also on Wednesday, Cobb police detective David Raissi took the stand to discuss Justin’s odd use of specific legal terms during questioning soon after his son died.

Raissi testified that detectives told Justin of the charges he was facing. Justin then said he didn’t understand why he would be charged because his son’s death was an accident, according to Raissi, and he calmly argued, “There was no malicious intent.”

‘I thought it was strange,” said Raissi, whose testimony has not been cross-examined. “It triggered in my mind how he knew that language. The wording he was using, the vernacular, the language was not from a layperson.”

“Certainly as a police officer or lawyer, you understand what malice is,” Raissi said. “The wording he used caught my attention. I thought it was strange that he was using that terminology.”

Stephen B. Morton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/AP/Pool
Stephen B. Morton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/AP/Pool

Justin has been charged with eight felony counts in Cooper’s death, including malice murder, cruelty to children, and criminal attempt to commit a felony. He faces life in prison if he’s convicted.

He has always maintained it was a tragic accident — not murder.

The prosecution is expected to continue presenting its case throughout the beginning of next week. Leanna is expected to testify for the defense as early as next week.