Hot Car Death Trial: 5 Things to Know About the Case Against Justin Ross Harris
It’s the third day of jury selection in the trial of Justin Ross Harris, the man accused of murdering his 22-month-old son, Cooper, by allegedly intentionally leaving him in a hot car.
The biggest challenge: finding unbiased jurors. Of the 36 potential jurors questioned by the judge on Monday, 19 of them claimed that they had already formed an opinion on Harris’ guilt or innocence. An additional 8 people said that they were very familiar with the case. (Harris has pleaded not guilty.)
On Tuesday, attorneys questioned potential jurors, including one question that might indicate a defense strategy: “Have you ever known anyone with a sexual addiction?” Harris’s attorney Maddox Kilgore asked.
Prosecutors charged Harris with eight felony counts, including malice murder, cruelty to children and criminal attempt to commit a felony.
Harris’s defense contends that Harris merely forgot about Cooper because he was distracted, and that Harris never intended to harm his son.
When the jury is seated, they’ll listen testimony about Cooper’s death. Here are some aspects of the prosecution’s case.
How Cooper Harris Died
No one disputes the events of June 18, 2014. Harris strapped his son Cooper into a rear-facing carseat and took him to Chick-Fil-A for breakfast. Minutes later, instead of dropping Cooper off at day care, he continued to his IT job at Home Depot, leaving Cooper strapped in his carseat.
At lunchtime, Harris went to the car and opened the door to put some light bulbs in the front seat. The defense says that he did not notice his son who was still in his carseat.
After 4pm, Harris was driving home when he says he noticed his son, who had spent several hours in the hot car. He pulled Cooper’s lifeless body from the car and screamed, drawing a crowd who called 911.
Cooper had died of hyperthermia, and Harris was arrested that night.
During a probable cause hearing in 2014, detectives told the court that Harris was combative with first responders.
Detective Jacquelyn Piper testified that Harris was on his cell phone when paramedics and officers arrived on the scene. When a fellow officer instructed him to hang up and talk to police, Harris allegedly yelled “shut the [expletive] and continued his phone conversation.
Detective Phil Stoddard testified that Harris was calm and even cordial as he answered police questions. Everything changed, however, when Harris was told he could face murder charges. He quickly told police that he had “no malicious intent” to kill the toddler.
Harris’s use of the legal phrase stuck with Stoddard. “We found that unusual,” he testified in court.
Harris Allegedly Sexted With Six Females While His Son Died
Prosecutors contend that Harris was not the loving father he has claimed to be.
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. (Harris tried to have the alleged racy text messages declared inadmissible at trial, but a judge ruled against him.)
Detective 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.’ ”
Harris’ Alleged Computer Searches
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.”
Will His Wife Testify?
For nearly two years, Harris’s wife, Leanna, stood by him, calling him a good father.
Still, questions emerged about Leanna’s behavior after Cooper’s death. (Leanna has not been charged with any crime, and her attorneys say she has cooperated fully with the investigation.)
According to Stoddard, Leanna allegedly arrived at the police station the night Cooper died and allegedly asked her husband, “Did you say too much?”
Additionally, prosecutors say that Leanna went to pick up Cooper from daycare on the day he died. When she was told that he was never dropped off, her alleged comments raised eyebrows. “Ross must have left him in the car,” she allegedly said, according to witnesses. “There’s no other explanation. Ross must have left him in the car.”
Earlier this year, Leanna filed for divorce. A source tells PEOPLE that “she has had enough.
It’s unclear whether Leanna will testify, but she’s on the witness lists obtained by PEOPLE.
Jury selection continues on Wednesday. The trial is expected to take several weeks. Harris faces life in prison if he’s convicted.