Profiler, doctor analyze Harris
by Hilary Butschek
July 25, 2014 04:00 AM | 17568 views | 16 16 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Justin Ross Harris
Justin Ross Harris
MARIETTA — More than a month after the death of 22-month-old Cooper Harris shocked Marietta and the nation, Cobb police continue to investigate his father after charging him with murder.

A local psychologist and criminal profiler agree police will be looking at Justin Ross Harris’ habits, his testimonies and the evidence he left to determine who Harris was before he was arrested June 18.

“The way the investigators are probably looking at that is what is normal, what is reasonable for him. What does normal look like? What is reasonable behavior for him?” said Stan Crowder, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Kennesaw State University.

Crowder examined the evidence police presented in Harris’ bond hearing July 3 to determine, much like police will, what Harris’ intentions were the day of the crime.

Harris, 33, of Marietta, is charged with murder and child cruelty. He was denied bond and has been in the Cobb County jail since June 18.

“Evidence can’t lie, it can’t be persuaded. It can be misinterpreted, but it can’t be changed,” Crowder said.

Crowder and Marietta psychologist Dr. Gary Dudley analyzed details of the case brought out by police in Harris’ hearing to determine what might have been normal for Harris.

Forgetfulness or intention?

Dudley said, as a psychiatrist, he often sees parents forget their children, so this case, although it has been highly publicized, is not unusual.

Dudley said it’s “plausible” Harris could have left his son in the car by accident because he was distracted and forgot to take him to day care that morning on the drive to work.

“The idea of going through a routine and missing a piece of it — it happens every day,” said Dudley, who founded Atlanta Area Psychological Associates, a group of counselors, psychologists and social workers who have offices in Marietta, Acworth, Roswell and Cumming.

Although it might have been a normal day for Harris, Dudley said, police might look for what caused Harris to become distracted enough to forget someone in the back seat of his car.

Dudley said it doesn’t take a dramatic event to be thrown off schedule. It could be something as simple as a phone call, he said.

“Anything in the routine can be overlooked by momentary distraction or preoccupation,” Dudley said.

Tara Abney, a stay-at-home mom of a 4-year-old boy and a 2-year-old girl from Smyrna, said she could see how Harris could have forgotten to drop his child off at day care that morning.

“I could see how that could happen. I think that could be any parent,” Abney said as her children ran through Glover Park. “I have always worried about that — forgetting and leaving them in the car.”

Dudley said he sees lapses in memory very often and considers them normal. What wasn’t normal about Harris’ act of forgetfulness, he said, was Harris apparently didn’t remember his child for seven hours.

“What made it unusual is the length of time that he was left in the car,” Dudley said.

Cooper Harris was left in the car strapped into a child seat that was too small for him, said Detective Phil Stoddard at the hearing. The straps of the child seat were also set to the tightest level.

“The intention was for the child not to come out of (the car seat), but that could be for a good reason or for a not good reason,” Crowder said.

Video on hyperthermia

It is unclear if Harris had a habit of watching videos about heat-related deaths before his son died, but police said he last watched a video on the subject five days before leaving his son in the car.

Harris had an extensive history on the Internet, which Chuck Boring, the assistant district attorney, described as his second personality, so police could consider his interest in the video as normal, Crowder said.

Stoddard said at Harris’ hearing he had watched a video of a veterinarian sitting in a car for hours in the sun to show viewers what it would be like to suffer hyperthermia, which was the cause of death for Cooper Harris.

Crowder said Harris could have chosen to watch the video either to learn or to be entertained. But this video would most likely have been used for education, Crowder said.

“You wouldn’t be watching a video like that for entertainment. You would be watching it for learning,” Crowder said. “But, you can learn because you want to learn about preventative measures.”

Stoddard said in court Harris had told him that heat-related death “was a fear of his.”

What made Harris want to watch the video, Crowder said, is what will decide if he intentionally left his child in his car.

“What was the motive for the learning (from the video) — that’s still being developed,” Crowder said.

Alleged ‘sexting’

Stoddard provided evidence at the hearing Harris had used chat rooms and dating websites to send sexually-explicit photographs to six different women the day his child sat dying in the heat in his car.

Dudley said Harris’ habit of sexting was normal for him, according to police, but it could have been a source of distraction that contributed to forgetting his son.

“It’s an additional source of distraction that not everybody allows into their life,” Dudley said.

Crowder said Harris’ sexting habit was unsightly, but it wasn’t illegal.

“The sexting in and of itself is a modern-day thing that people used to do in the 1960s with pictures,” Crowder said. “It’s just a different medium now. When it becomes criminal is when there’s a juvenile involved.”

Stoddard testified in court that there was a juvenile involved with Harris.

Dudley said he sees patients all the time with sexual addictions that he calls obsessions, which is what he said Harris was suffering from. So, Harris’ sexting isn’t unusual either.

“That behavior is so prevalent right now I think you are at risk if you try to ascribe a specific meaning to it,” Dudley said.

Harris’ lawyer, Maddox Kilgore, objected six times to Assistant District Attorney Chuck Boring’s accusations, but the judge denied his objections. Kilgore said he thought the details of Harris’ personal life were unrelated to his intentions the day he left his son in the car.

“That has nothing to do with anything,” Kilgore said in court.

Deceptive behavior

Overall, Crowder said there were many indications Harris was using “deceptive behavior,” such as when he didn’t tell the police that he was deaf in his left ear. Kilgore told Stoddard about his client’s hearing loss for the first time at the court appearance.

“You use deceptive behavior to reinforce what you want people to believe usually in a law — you don’t use deceptive behavior for the truth,” Crowder said.

But, Crowder added, it’s not unusual in cases of child deaths that the police thoroughly investigate family members.

“As an outsider looking in it, certainly appears Cobb PD and DA’s office are being very thorough and being very meticulous in their approach to this thing,” Crowder said.

Sergeant Dana Pierce, a spokesman for Cobb police had no new updates on their investigation, and he said police do not know when they will be done with the investigation.

After police finish gathering evidence, they will give all the information they have about the case to the district attorney’s office, said Kim Isaza, a spokeswoman for the district attorney.

Then, the district attorney will choose whether to bring the case to a grand jury.

If the DA thinks there is enough evidence to warrant a trial, Isaza said he will order a grand jury to hear the case.

Then, if the grand jury decides there is enough evidence to charge Harris with a crime, it will give the superior court a true bill of indictment, which allows the superior court to hear the case, she said.

A true bill of indictment means the grand jury thought the case was worthy of a trial.

Comments-icon Post a Comment
Chzbykr 2
August 10, 2014
I think this was a terrible accident. Harris was negligent for sure. But I can't see from all evidence and accounts presented that it was intensional.
July 27, 2014
I can't get past his wife asking him if he "told too much" to the police. Can't see any way this question would apply in this case. At all. Also, he didn't notice the smell of decomp / diaper?
July 26, 2014
Karen2020, Nicole E never proclaimed that her opinion would determine Ross Harris' guilt or innocence. We're all entitled to voice our own opinions.
Nicole E
July 26, 2014
Cooper endured the most aweful, horrendous way to die, alone, scared, and in so much pain, intentional or not he still murdered his son. There needs to be tougher laws for people who leave children, babies, animals, and the elderly in hot or cold cars. You forgot your son for 7 hours? BS. You strap your son, Cooper, in the car and head for work, and a whole 2 Minutes later forget? BS. You back up into the parking stall and dont see Copper? BS. The daycare called you and your wife, or they emailed you, and both parents ignore the daycare? Calling about their son?! Cooper? BS. You can remember light bulbs for your house, but not your son? BS. It was your worst fear, so you researched what happens to a child left in a car? And it happened? BS You opened the car door at lunch and didn't see your child? And you didn't smell decomposition? BS! You get in the car after work and as soon as you open the door to leave work, you don't see your son, Cooper or smell decomposition, again!? BS. At this point, the end of your work day, you still haven't talked or contacted the daycare or your wife? BS. They are both guilty.
Carol Daly
July 27, 2014
Thank you for saying all I wanted to say but too angry to put it into words...and it seems it wasn't 2 mins but he fed the child at a place that was 30 seconds from where he drops the child off...Also, it was discovered there were no light bulbs purchased that day...All the way he is lying...I am so angry at this situation, I can't put together a response...So thank you for doing so.
have you forgot
July 25, 2014
The stinch in the car after his child was already decomposing since noon that day... yet it took him so long to pull over and cry for help?

This article only addressed behaviors like sexting and forgetting kids, not some of the behaviors he did AFTER leaving work.

Its due process people.
July 25, 2014
You are misinformed about the amount of "stench" that would have been in the car after a matter of hours. Quit using cable entertainment shows as educational truths. You're not a forensics expert so your opinions mean squat.
sexting not murder
July 25, 2014
I agree, this is likely a rush to judgment. They have used any shed of taint to try to convince us that he is guilty. None of this so called evidence though is related to the incident. Maybe they can convict him of sexting but there is zero evidence this was the sons death was intentional.
Karmen Le
July 27, 2014
Let's see
July 25, 2014
I think it's about 50/50 he did it, unlike the 99% of people who are convinced he did it. Let's see more facts and let this case play out. It will be interesting and hopefully decisive, one way or the other.
Carol Daly
July 27, 2014
How can you forget your child after feeding him 30 seconds before you reach work???? Anyone that wants to give this guy a chance should rot in Hell! I am not in any way someone that knows the legal system, but this story has holes all through it...He remembers that he enjoys sexting with these people (who don't deserve to be called women) but can't remember his child? He "studied" how long it takes for a child to die in a hot car??? Not because he was afraid it would happen, But to actually do it...His wife is just as guilty...Look at her face...No emotion! I would be ready to kill my husband for killing my child! Accident or not!!!! I chose my husband, because I felt he would be a responsible adult and father...and he always was!!! I just can't believe the people who can't see what's going on here.
July 28, 2014
Agree, Carol! How can anyone remotely think he is innocent?? There are way too many incidences to point to being guilty that can not be justified. If this guy walks, you will find more deaths of children dying this way because people can get away with it. Sickening.
July 25, 2014
As this Harris matter goes on and "sexting" remains the main issue that we are being told (extensively and ad nauseam) about, I am more convinced that the public's initial outcry that Cobb PD/DA was overreacting was, in fact, actually dead on.

I am afraid what we are seeing now is merely an effort of embarrassed government entries (with lots of power over the citizen) to spin their wheels and make it look like they have done "a job well done". Sadly, with the lunacy we see from law enforcement/government these days, it is not out of "likely".
July 25, 2014
LOL! No matter if it was on purpose or not, and / or reguardless of the sexting, his second personality he kept hidden and obvious sign of prior planing... Under your threory it's still neglegence that lead to cruelty to a child and the death of a human = homicide / murder.

July 25, 2014
Unfortunately, in 2014 18 deaths of children left in overheated cars have occured. source:

Last year 2013 44 hyperthermia deaths happened same source. This is not a uncommon occurance.

As for the evidence against Mr. Harris I thought evidence seized by a search warrant had to be specifically related to the charge. I don't believe his "sexting" over the internet is germane to this case. That information should have never have been released to the public because it could prejudice a jury against him.

Also, the investigator said the car smelled of death. Just what is death supposed to smell like?

I have an uneasy feeling that Mr. Harris is being "NIFONGED" by the DA to gain political favor. Of course this is dangerous to us all because if they can do it to him they can railroad you and me with hype charges too if we run afoul of them.
July 25, 2014
Sexting is evidence of his unhappieness with his marriage might be motive to kill the kid and leave the marriage. Sounds pretty relevant to me.
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