The Cooper Harris case: Silence in face of injustice
by Allen B. Goodwin
July 26, 2014 11:40 PM | 13267 views | 27 27 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
I am quiet. But it hurts. I am without that settled feeling that usually overcomes me when I know my mouth is safely shut and my computer keyboard is asleep. I am quiet but unsettled. I need to write to somebody.

Like many people, I’ve followed the coverage of the tragic death of Cooper Harris, the toddler who suffocated in his father’s car on June 18 in Cobb County.

Although possible, as of this writing, I seriously doubt Cooper Harris was murdered. Here’s what may have happened:

His dad, Ross Harris, pulled into the Akers Mill shopping center parking lot as he was discovering that he’d just made the biggest mistake of his life. He’d accidentally killed his own son. He’d left his son, whom he loved, in the car that morning.

“What have I done?” he cried.

He was “uncooperative with police,” in the minutes that followed. He cursed one officer and told a female officer to “Shut up!” I’m guessing that the officers took those remarks in stride.

Then comes Detective Phillip Stoddard. He hasn’t seen the display of raw emotion that one eyewitness called, “definitely genuine,” and all the cops on the scene had accepted at face value. He speaks with Harris, who makes a poor first impression when he was not completely truthful with his answers about who he’d been calling on his cellphone.

Detective Stoddard hears the stories of Harris’ disrespect toward the uniformed officers. I suspect Harris’ remarks — retold — offended the detective more than they did the officers themselves.

Detective Stoddard then has to “process” the death car in the hot sun, a time consuming and gruesome procedure. Stoddard sees and smells the results of Harris’ carelessness. He questions the depth of Harris’ stupidity. How could anyone be so dumb? And this smell, how could anyone miss this smell?

He factors in the disrespect toward the uniformed officers, one of them a woman. It’s hot. A shade tent was eventually brought in. And somewhere between hot and bothered, Detective Stoddard concludes that whether Ross Harris is guilty of anything or not, he needs to be taught a lesson.

The detective has played a game of character assassination by innuendo with Harris. Leaks to the media about everyday activities, like the Internet searches and the noonday trip to the car, have been cast as fraught with hidden meaning.

When Leanna Harris backed her husband at their son’s funeral, the innuendos started toward her. Whether he intended to or not, lacking any hard evidence, Stoddard has cultivated a self-sustaining tide of negative public opinion toward the Harris’s. The sexting revelations served no public purpose, but ensured lots of public attention for the duration of the case.

Now, all this could stop at the grand jury phase — or sooner. Most grand jurors in Georgia are never even told of the tremendous authority they have. Prosecutors rarely bring them frivolous cases so it’s unusual for a grand jury to ever need to be anything but a rubber stamp for prosecutors.

It would thrill me to see an act of courage from a Cobb County grand jury. They could send Harris home to face his wife instead of sending him to face a judge and jury.

Ross Harris has lost his son, his job, his freedom and probably his wife. His search for justice will likely cost him most of whatever else he has. I hope he finds it.

The whole case reminds me of the Leo Frank/Mary Phagan murder case a century ago. And all we know what happened to Frank.

So, I’m writing not so much to help Ross Harris as I am to excuse my own silence.

Allen B. Goodwin of Roswell is the co-author of “The Winecoff Fire: The Untold Story of America’s Deadliest Hotel Fire.”

Comments
(27)
Comments-icon Post a Comment
APrane
|
August 04, 2014
Feel sorry for you. Hope you do not have kids, cause your sentiments are far from that of a parent. Maybe you should have kept silent.
A Loving Mother
|
August 12, 2014
I completely agree with you. Sympathy for these people is an insult to real victim here, Cooper Harris. RIP Anyone who thinks this "father is innocent" is delusional.
its judge judy 4real
|
August 04, 2014
This case is just Judge Judy in real life. The defendent is unlikeable and seemingly a bit of a sleazebag, so Judge Judy and the CCPD (aka CCSS) decide generally "they must of did something bad at some point" so... GUILTY (or $5k for the person Judge judy dislikes less)!
anonymous
|
August 01, 2014
MR. Goodwin, I think you are correct. Ultimately, the CCPD has nothing to support a murder charge or anything else near as drastic.

Nonetheless, the public was outraged by their rush to condemn this Mr. Harris as a dangerous criminal. It was at that point that those fair, honest, upstanding members of the police department stating telling us all about those "sexting" message Mr. Harris was sending to other women.

What did those sexting messages have to do with their case? Not a DANG THING. It was likely a distraction from the fact that CCPD had such a poor case to support murder/treating Harris like Charles Manson.

But those fair, honest, and upstanding members of the police department were NOT happy that the public would dare do anything other than support their actions (stupid or not). SO...they made sure the public started thinking that Mr. Harris was a less than perfect kind of guy, a jerk. TO do so they made sure we all knew details about his private life that had NOTHING to do with their supposedly strong case to support murder charges.

Combine this with what looks to be Detective Stoddard's preoccupation with the sext messages and what appears to be his willful exaggeration of facts, and any citizen who is not questioning the actions of CCPD in the case obviously not really paying attention.

God bless the average citizen who ever finds themselves accused by one of those fine, up standing police officers. Not all of them are smart enough to be in law enforcement. And, too many of them do not give a dang about the law, the truth or fairness.

Ross Harris is not someone I want to hang out with, but I am very near convinced that he is getting a rare deal from CCPD and Vic Reynolds.

A Loving Mother
|
August 12, 2014
Anonymous, you give disrespect to that name. And you would suck at being an investigator.
Theresa117
|
July 30, 2014
What a pathetic assessment of this horrific tragedy. Even if Ross Harris actually did forget his son in the vehicle, the second he opened the driver's door both at noon hour and when he left for the day, the stench from his son's dead body would have hit him immediately. The duffus gets into his vehicle and then drives 2 or 3 miles before noticing anything? Ya right.

And trust me, no rational mother would ever claim that she wasn't angry at her husband in a situation like this and they certainly would never "back them up" by saying what a wonderful person he was. Wonderful hubbies do not sext underage girls. Nor would they ever make the brain-dead comment that she wouldn't bring her dead son back to life even if she could.

These two have condemned THEMSELVES by their actions. So please----stop trying to act as though you're the only rational person on this matter.
Honest Abe
|
July 29, 2014
There is one very important thing we can all learn from this Harris tragedy and that is to NEVER EVER TALK TO THE POLICE WITHOUT YOUR LAWYER PRESENT even if they say it is off the record which it is not! This type of accident is not all that uncommon unfortunately and could happen to anyone. So far this year 18 deaths of infants and small children being left in a car have happened. Last year 2013 44 deaths occurred.
Milton Mom
|
July 30, 2014
How common is it for both parents to google ”how long before child dies in hot car”. How common is it that the parent who actually leaves the child in the car watches (days before the child dies): a compilation video of people actually dying in different circumstances multiple times, a video of a vet sitting in a hot car recording his experience in an effort to bring awareness of not leaving dogs in a hot car – again watching it multiple times. How common is it for the same parent to visit and participate in a sub Reddit of ”Child Free Living” and perform an internet search on “how to survive in prison”

How common is it for the child who is left in the car gets put back into his too small rear facing infant car seat days prior? How common is it that the parent repeatedly lies to the police while they are asking questions about the baby who just died? How common is it for the parent to delete text messages and replies to texts the day of the child’s death?

How common is it that the other parent knows exactly what happened to the child before anyone tells her what had happened? How common is it for this other parent to ask the parent who left the child in the car “Well, did you say too much?” How common is it for the parent who left the child in the car to say “I was afraid of how he would look”. How common is it that a parent would not want a child back after losing them?

Honest Abe
|
July 30, 2014
An additional extremely important point. NEVER CONSENT TO A SEARCH REQUESTED BY THE POLICE. Make them get a search warrant ! Even prescription medications can be used against you if you voluntarily give them up. They will tell you the requested search is just routine but it is not and anything they find can be used against you. Computers, car trunks, gym bags, purses, cell phones have to have a search warrant before they can search them even though the police say they don't need one.
Milton Mom
|
July 29, 2014
Allen,

First, Cooper Harris did not suffocate. He died of hyperthermia or more commonly known as heat stroke. And it was an absolutely excruciating way to die. Cooper clawed at his face and thrashed hard enough, while strapped down in his infant car seat, to leave cuts on the back of his head. Another little girl who died this way had ripped ALL of her hair out.



Think about that for a minute.

Second, seems like the defense is getting to more “journalists” besides the AJC to start defending these “parents” and shifting focus to the CCPD. This is so transparent so please, just stop. Having omitted what we do know about the Harris’s words and actions prior to, the day of and after Cooper’s death, you are not writing about this case as a whole here – which is beyond chilling. Shame on you.

Detective Stoddard is not the one who “has cultivated a self-sustaining tide of negative public opinion towards the Harris’s”; they did that all by themselves with 1. Their actions and 2. Their statements. Which were presented as evidence during the hearing. And that’s exactly why the judge found probable cause to move this to a grand jury, keep Ross in jail and why he called this a “potential death penalty case”. I am so sick of the “blame everyone else for my misfortune” argument that’s rampant today. Such a lame excuse. Being an adult means taking responsibility. Which is what these two need to do. And you too. It disgusts me that you are omitting what we all know, focusing your concern on what these two have “lost” and your obvious attack on the good detective.

I am confident that the Cobb County Grand Jury will get this right. And when it comes to it, I am confident that a jury will also get it right. Justice for Cooper.

Anthony Perkins
|
July 29, 2014
If Justin Harris and his wife, Leanna, are not guilty in collusion with murdering their son, they are, without a doubt, guilty of astonishing bad judgment and jaw-dropping vulgarity.

Let's take Leanna, for example, and her words at funeral: "I know you are surprised to see me up here; you probably expect me to be out there on the dirt rolling around in my tears and snot."

She chewed gum throughout the hearing. She wore a red dress to the hearing. She has expressed no emotion. She claims to be a "woman of faith." That she may be, but she is also a fool who knows nothing about propriety.
CAKnowlton
|
July 28, 2014
Dear Mr. Allen B. Goodwin -

I, too, need to write to somebody.

Namely YOU.

As I read your "opinion" in the Marietta news, what began creeping into my mind was - I wonder how much Mr. Goodwin "might have been" paid by the Harris defense team to publicly attempt to exonerate the killer(s) of this baby. I found your words to be just as bizarre as the rest of this case is.

To me - being an educated mother/grandmother from Illinois just reading the daily news (far removed from this situation), you have portrayed yourself in the media to be ignorant of the facts and severely lacking moral conscience.

Since the day after the funeral, the Harris couple has been consumed with attempting to collect the life insurance money they coincidentally took out on the baby shortly before his "tragic accident." As part of your (LOUD) silence, it screams out to the public that you did not address this.

Their extensive research of how long will it take for the baby to die was kept silent by you, as well.

No, no...... You only address how "thrilled you would be" to watch the poor victim kill his child, collect the death money, and walk free.

How about the other creeps who "accidentally" lock their children in closets and forget to feed them until they die? I suppose their freedom would be just as "thrilling" to you, Mr. Goodwin?

The poor guy may "lose his wife"? Only if her anger at him is over that "he said too much" at his initial arrest.

Certainly not over the torture of this baby, which she publicly says she is not angry about.

(OOPS, Hate it when that happens!)

Your lack of empathy for the cooked baby is igniting even further public outrage.

We, the general public out there, can only hope that the rest of the defense team equally does this poor of a job.

PLEASE, Mr. Goodwin, please tell me that you do not have any children.

Then put your keyboard back to sleep. Permanently.

-CKnowlton

Justice for Baby Cooper
Milton Mom
|
July 28, 2014
And why are you so focused on what Ross has “lost”? Cooper is the one who lost. He will never get to graduate kindergarten, learn to read, have a best friend, join little league, fall in love, hold hands, go to college, drink a beer, find a career, get married, hold his own son, hold his own grandson. Life is so incredible! And this child was robbed of it. I am grieved, outraged that any focus on what the Harris’s have “lost” is anywhere in print.
Youvegotobekisdding
|
July 28, 2014
Have you followed this case AT ALL? This guy is a straight up murderer. Not one single thing about this says accident. Not one. I bet you're one of the morons who would have acquitted Casey Anthony, too.

This is what you need to do. Quit making up things. Especially when it comes to how law enforcement officers do their job or process a crime scene, and then go learn about the case. If you still believe the emotionless guy with pure evil in his eyes is innocent, I have ocean view property in Kansas for sale.
Justice4theinnocent
|
July 28, 2014
You are either close friends of the family and in serious denial, or working on behalf of the defense. Either way, nice omission of many facts: the cheating, sexting, and online searches for hot car deaths to name a few. I hope you do not currently serve in law enforcement or any other justice serving capacity where your inability to see reality would do some serious damage.
Really2014
|
July 27, 2014
I think this is one of the worst articles I've ever read in this paper. You speculate quite a bit on this one. I thought reporters at least attempt to have some facts to go with their story, but you just made up some things and write them like they are true... The chief editor should have read this joke of an article and not printed it.

come on MDJ at least try to print some factual information to support your stories or your paper will become a joke.

Wolfslady... the police do believe he is guilty from day one. That's why he was arrested. They are the prosecutors in this case so they should believe someone is guilty before they get arrested. This doesn't mean he won't get a fair trial. You know defense, prosecution and jury. But I bet the prosecution will say he's dirty and the defense will say is isn't and the jury will decide.

If anyone is going to be mad at anyone they should be mad at the crazy media coverage of this story that distorts facts and tries to make a buck by printing it and putting it on TV.
MzOpinion8d
|
July 27, 2014
Detective Stoddard was not one of the people who processed the car. He did not even go to the crime scene. He was at the police station interviewing Harris.

The "shade tent" was to shield the scene from the helicopters overhead, not the sun. The sun was well on its way down by the time they started processing the car around 6 pm.

Harris was not "not completely truthful" about who he called - he flat out lied and said he didn't call anyone!

There are no hidden meanings behind Harris' internet searches. "How long does it take a child to die in a hot car?" is pretty straightforward if you ask me. Telling police everything you did during the day while your child was dying in the car but "forgetting" to mention sexting 6 women and returning to the car one-day is "fraught" with OVERT meaning - intentional deception.

The negative opinions towards the Harrises are based on THEIR OWN ACTIONS AND BEHAVIORS.

Even if you are writing an opinion piece, you should get the facts about which your opinion is based straight.
anonymous
|
July 27, 2014
The grand jury is unique in justice. Prosecutors must present their evidence to an impartial panel of the accused's peers. It generally works well. I am not sure why Harris' case is any different than the case of any accused. This is a tragedy, but justice must be served.
Sassy Nanny
|
July 27, 2014
Did you even watch or read the transcript of the probable cause hearing? The quirky witness who said the cops didn't come for 30 minutes when in fact they were there almost immediately also was the only one quoted as saying the father seemed to be genuine in his display of grief. Your article seems very naive and ill informed.
Mike Woodliff
|
July 27, 2014
What bothers me is that this young, sweet child is dead and nobody knows why.
Jack Webb
|
July 27, 2014
Mr Goodwin,

Your facts are incorrect. But you probably already know that. You know it because you have not spoken with any of the eye witnesses on the scene. Nor have you talked with Detective Stoddard or anyone who knows him.

If you had, they would have told you what an honorable and dedicated police officer he is and has been for many years.

Your article confirms your ignorance and disregard for the police. Sometimes it is better to remain silent and let others wonder if you are ignorant, rather than to open your mouth and confirm it to the world.
Karen O
|
July 27, 2014
Really? You are just as willing to declare him innocent in the face of several inconsistencies and unseen evidence? How is that any better than the person thinking him guilty with the given information? I am all for innocent until proven guilty and for fair trials. But, I'm not okay with writing a potential crime off as non-existent because it makes us too uncomfortable to think anyone could be this evil.
watson500
|
July 27, 2014
This article makes it sounds as though Det. Stoddard took out the charges on Harris based on his initial first impressions and some hurt feelings. Also because he needed to be "taught a lesson". The writer Mr. Goodwin is making vast assumptions based on second hand information. Circumstantial cases are hard to make even in the simpilist of cases and this is not a simple case. Based on just the facts of this case, it needs to go to a grand jury. The detective in this case did the right thing. There are just too many facts in this case that would lead a reasonable person to believe Cooper's death was the result of at least gross negligence or worse premeditated murder. Let a jury decide.
WolfsLady
|
July 27, 2014
If a seasoned officer would let the fact that he got hot and sweaty while processing a crime scene cloud his judgment then he doesn't need to be on the job. You are totally discounting the other allegations and proclaiming that evidence that hasn't been released yet must be bogus too. The man didn't even call 911. And trust me I've seen how gullible some people are if a person is even a 1/2 way decent actor. Which a guy who routinely cheats on his wife would have to be. I'm not ready to hang him yet, but you're living in a fantasy world if you don't admit that there is a chance that this guy is guilty. That goes for his overly supportive (under the circumstances) wife too.
*We welcome your comments on the stories and issues of the day and seek to provide a forum for the community to voice opinions. All comments are subject to moderator approval before being made visible on the website but are not edited. The use of profanity, obscene and vulgar language, hate speech, and racial slurs is strictly prohibited. Advertisements, promotions, and spam will also be rejected. Please read our terms of service for full guides