Justin Ross Harris, the man accused of murdering his 22-month-old son by allegedly intentionally leaving him in a hot car while he went to his job at Home Depot, wept in court on Monday as his attorney delivered opening statements about the events that led to the toddler’s death.
Defense attorney Maddox Kilgore told the jurors that there was “no doubt” that Harris was responsible for the death of his son, Cooper — but that the death was a “tragic accident.”
Kilgore also conceded that Harris was involved in “sexually immoral behavior” in the days leading up to the death. In a pretrial hearing, a detective alleged Harris had exchanged sexual text messages with six different females while his son was dying in the car. One of the females he allegedly sexted was just 16 years old.
But, Kilgore says, the sexting was “no motive for him to murder the person he loved more than anybody in the world.”
As he listened to the testimony, Harris, 35, began to cry, his shoulders shaking.
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The Case Against Harris
The prosecution contends Harris purposefully left Cooper in the car during a sweltering day in June 2014. Among their evidence: alleged computer searches in which Harris researched hot car deaths online. Police contend he also searched “how to survive in prison.”
He has been charged with eight felony counts, including malice murder, cruelty to children and criminal attempt to commit a felony.
Detective Jacquelyn Piper was called as the first prosecution witness. She was among the first responders to arrive at the scene when Harris allegedly discovered Cooper in the back seat of the vehicle after work. In Tuesday’s testimony, she alleged that Harris was on the phone when she arrived at the scene. She said that he refused to hang up, belligerently telling another officer to “shut the [expletive] up.”
Piper testified that Harris asked for his handcuffs to be taken off and insisted he had to call his wife because she was planning to go to Cooper’s daycare to pick him up. He later made casual conversation while she was taking him to police headquarters, Piper alleged.
Jurors also saw the first piece of video evidence on Tuesday, when prosecutors showed the patrol car footage. “What have I done? My boy!” he screamed at one point. Later, he sat completely silent for long stretches. Prosecutors alleges that the video shows that he only reacted after they arrived at the scene.
“I was supposed to drop him off this morning and I didn’t do it,” he says at one point. “I swear I dropped him off.”
The trial is expected to continue for several weeks.