Father charged in toddler son’s death
by Haisten Willis and Sarah Westwood
June 19, 2014 01:35 PM | 24178 views | 52 52 comments | 45 45 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Justin Ross Harris, left, stands with his attorney, Maddox Kilgore of Marietta, Thursday night in this image taken from a TV screen showing video from the courtroom. No members of the media were allowed in the courtroom. Harris entered a plea of not guilty and is being held without bond at the Cobb County Jail. <br> Staff/Jeff Stanton
Justin Ross Harris, left, stands with his attorney, Maddox Kilgore of Marietta, Thursday night in this image taken from a TV screen showing video from the courtroom. No members of the media were allowed in the courtroom. Harris entered a plea of not guilty and is being held without bond at the Cobb County Jail.
Staff/Jeff Stanton
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Cooper Harris
Cooper Harris
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Justin Ross Harris
Justin Ross Harris
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CUMBERLAND — The man who police say left his 22-month-old child strapped in a hot car for at least seven hours, leading to the toddler’s death, is facing murder charges.

Justin Ross Harris, 33, of Marietta, was charged with cruelty to children in the first degree after Wednesday’s incident. Because the child was pronounced dead at the scene, police have also charged Harris with felony murder.

Although police have yet to release the child’s name, neighbors and social media websites appearing to belong to his parents confirm his name was Cooper Harris.

Cobb District Attorney Vic Reynolds explained the charge of felony murder does not necessarily involve intent.

“Felony murder is where you commit a felony crime,” Reynolds said. “My goal may not have been to kill you, but the results of my actions caused the death.”

The maximum sentence for felony murder is life in prison. Reynolds said the investigation is in the early stages and the charges could change or, if the death is ruled to be purely accidental, there could be no charges.

Reynolds said the case will be handed to his office once police finish their investigation and he hopes it progresses “as expeditiously as possible.”

He noted the current charges Harris is facing are based upon police evidence a judge agreed provided enough probable cause to issue a warrant.

Reynolds said his office would review the investigation “from top to bottom” upon its completion and decide what the final charges, if any, would be. However, he indicated it was still too early to speculate on what led to Cooper’s death.

“These police officers believe that charges are appropriate, the judge agrees, and the DA’s office will make the final decision,” he explained.

Harris appeared in court for the first time Thursday evening before a magistrate judge, where he pleaded not guilty to charges of child cruelty and felony murder.

Wearing a navy blue jumpsuit, the father stood motionless beside his attorney, Maddox Kilgore, while Judge John Strauss reminded Harris and the small media contingent watching from a remote location that the nature of Harris’ charges required a higher court to set bond. The judge said a July 15 hearing in Cobb Superior Court would address Harris’ bond. Until then, he will remain in jail.

Kilgore’s website boasts of his success as a criminal defender, including one 2011 case in which he secured a “rare ‘not guilty by reason of insanity’ jury verdict in Cobb County where his client was charged with murder by stabbing his mother 120 times.”

Harris, who appears to go by Ross, graduated from the University of Alabama in 2012 with a Bachelor’s Degree in management information systems, according to his LinkedIn page. His profile also indicates he has worked as an IT developer at the Home Depot for two years.

He and his wife, Leanna Harris, live in a condominium complex called Wynne’s Ridge near Delk Road.

Sean Rucker, the property’s manager, said he believed the couple had recently moved in to their condo, which they were renting.

Police say Harris forgot Cooper was still in the back seat when he headed into work.

According to Harris’ arrest warrant, the toddler remained tucked in his car seat for about seven hours, until Harris discovered his son was still inside the car on his drive home shortly after 4 p.m.

Dobbins Air Force Base’s weather service indicates the temperature outside at the time the child was found was 88 degrees, but Sgt. Dana Pierce, Cobb police spokesman, said cars can heat up to temperatures as high as 135 degrees in a matter of minutes when left in direct sunlight.

Pierce said Harris had to be physically restrained before he was taken by officers to Cobb Police Headquarters for questioning. 

“I know they were very loving parents,” said Ingrid Maier, a neighbor. “I could see that when I talked to them.”

Maier, who serves on the complex’s board, said the family lived in the building across from her. She said the community would do whatever it could to bring comfort to the family.

“I’m just so saddened by this whole thing,” she said. “That’s a sweet couple and I really feel for the husband.”

Maier recalled seeing Cooper strapped into a stroller before his parents took him on a walk recently, saying the toddler looked “adorable.”

“I think he’s punished enough already, to lose a child,” Maier said of the charges Harris now faces.

Wednesday’s incident has prompted an emotional outcry from the community, especially among parents with children the same age as Cooper. Many have rushed to condemn Harris’ negligence on social media, while others have defended what they perceive as an honest mistake any father could make.

“I would caution the public to reserve judgment until they hear what the actual evidence will be,” Reynolds warned. “We don’t know what the evidence is.”

Harris’ cruelty to children charge includes the description, “deprivation of necessary sustenance” according to the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office website.

“I can’t give you a specific time track, but I’d hope for sooner rather than later,” Reynolds said of his office’s effort to nail down final charges.

Anyone with information about the case is asked to call (770) 499-3945.

A news release from Cobb police Thursday said the Cobb County Medical Examiner’s Office is expected to determine the manner and cause of Cooper’s death.



Comments
(52)
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Guido5
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June 21, 2014
Unfortunately, Vic Reynolds' political future now rests on this case. He has two options: 1) do the right thing, reduce the charges, don't oppose the bond, and let the investigation play out. His other, and more likely course of action, is to double down on the charges, and prove that Harris is an animal. He'll likely do the latter, regardless of what the investigation yields, because he's not interested in the truth. He wishes only to pander to the press in a high-profile case.
L2818
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June 21, 2014
Vic Reynolds is ridiculous. What about innocent until PROVEN guilty. Murder, really??? Why can't he(at the very least) be given a bond so he can attend his sons funeral????Shame on you all. I understand it has to be investigated and we don't know the whole story however, we give bond (w/bond cond) to RAPIST. Vic, you could have charged the child endangerment, given a bond than indicted him later for Murder if the evidence warranted it. I know you guys "represent" the victim but why do this to the mom...she already lost her baby and doesn't even have her husband to lean on now. Not to mention the financial burden you've created. You could have gone with lesser charges given a bond and indicted later for Murder you could have Vic-YOU chose not to. YOU are victimizing the mother and family. What goes around comes around Judge Strauss, DA & police. Talk about kicking somebody when their down. This is COBB County...thanks for the great image The WORLD IS WATCHING
Pee Wee's Bro
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June 21, 2014
This unfortunate accident happens to women more often than to men like Mr. Harris but I don't recall any mother ever being prosecuted for this tragedy. So, why is Mr. Harris is being dragged through getting arrested and held without bail and will probably be tried whereas if it was Mrs. Harris she would have probably bonded out by now and the D.A. would choose not to prosecute and declare this as an accident?
Get a Clue
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June 23, 2014
Why don't you stop speculating and making your assumptions, and wait to see how it plays out? the autopsy taking this long says something, it could have been foul play. in the future, do your research before letting your misogynistic views get in the way of common sense.
West Cobb Lawyer
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June 20, 2014
Vic - give the guy a bond. Frank Cox will do whatever you say. Let cooler heads prevail and figure out what happened. Unless I see some other evidence it looks like involuntary manslaughter at best. Don't let some ticked off cops derail your administration this early. Some back pedaling in the a.m. would be in order from you and the reporter from MDJ who appears to have made a huge gaffe. I think she was totally wrong when she reported that the suspect dropped off another child b4 leaving with his son. I will have another opinion maybe if I learn she was right. I think MDJ is running from this story now.
GoodMove
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June 21, 2014
There is no other child that was dropped off. Cooper was an only child
drosser
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June 20, 2014


Obviously, the police know something that we don't. The article said: "the current charges Harris is facing are based upon police evidence a judge agreed provided enough probable cause to issue a warrant." I don't think the DA would go after anyone where there wasn't enough evidence to warrant the charges. Something is not right with this whole case. There are just too many things that don't add up.

People kill their children all the time. There is something on the news nearly every day about a parent killing a child. No one knows what goes on behind closed doors and, just because a parent shows the outside that they are "loving parents", doesn't make it so.

Mr. Harris is right where he belongs until all the facts are presented. If it is found that this was an accident, he will be released. Either way, he was extremely negligent in taking care of his child even if it was an "accident."



Read more: The Marietta Daily Journal - Father charged in toddler son s death
Brooke6
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June 20, 2014
Unless there is proof that the father intentionally left his son in the back seat of a car, I don't see how jail time would be the appropriate "punishment" for this. I'm sure he will torment himself for the rest of his life. Although I hope I would never do something like this, I'm usually exhausted in the mornings and definitely can see how somebody can go into autopilot. As far the charging this man with felony murder, the chances that this man will ever be able to hold a decent job again is slim. Not only did we just punish the father, we also punished the wife and surviving child. With less income, who knows if they will be able to afford to keep their house. What if the family is now on a path to needing public assistance? As a taxpayer and somebody who thinks this was a terrible mistake, I can't support these charges.
GoodMove
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June 21, 2014
I believe the police agree with you. If there was nothing there then they would see this as a horrible incident.

There is more to this story and what really goes on behind closed doors is what we don't see. I personally knew a child molester before and would have never agreed with anyone that he could do that. I believed in his innocence all the way until he went to court and admitted to the things he had done for the past 20 years to children. That being said we should wait and see what the police have to say and weigh the evidence after that to make a decision.
Sarah Laatsch
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June 20, 2014
On August 16, 2011 this very same thing happened to my family. We had recently moved and our sitter had taken a vacation. After 2 weeks of craziness, we were trying to get back into a routine, and my husband forgot that our son was with him in the car and turned right (as he had for 2 weeks) instead of left to drop him off a daycare on his way to work. He still to this day remembers dropping him off. My son spent 8 hours trapped in the truck while people climbed into the bed, had lunch in a vehicle next to him. Mind you, the car seat never left the vehicle so it was no unusual to see it sitting there. But not one of the 3 people who were close enough to see inside saw or heard our son. He was 9 months old at the time, strapped in a rear facing carseat that never left the car. We never learned the reason on why he mis-remembered that day. There were no phone calls, no rush to work; no drug or alcohol use, he simply forgot that he was with him. Later that day, when I went to pick him up only to find the daycare provider to inform me that he never showed (and for some reason she never called us wondering why). When I immediately called my husband wondering where he was, he said at daycare. Very few parents feel what we both did at that moment. Very few parents live that sort of nightmare, the realization that you(or your spouse) forgot the one thing that your world revolves around. My family was lucky that day, after a month in the ICU at Denver Children's Hospital we got to take our son home. He was severely brain damaged, but alive. God only knows how he survived while so many other children with the exact same story passed.

The city then decided to press charges, misdemeanor child endangerment, they dragged my already devastated husband through the mud. We were forced to re-live that day in court, in the paper, in our community members faces for 15 months before we finally went to trial. We were threatened with felony charges, and hard time from the D.A.; threatened by our own community. I personally had so much anger, never at my husband, but at the situation. I was one of those people who thought it only happened to bad parents. Until I learned how it happens, how easy it is to forget your own child.

After a grueling trial, a jury of our peers found him guilty of child endangerment. The judge on the other hand had listened to the evidence, as well as doing his own research. He actually quoted a well written Pulitzer Prize winning article, Fatal Distractions, during the sentencing saying that what he had lived through, continue to live through, was punishment enough.

The reason I'm sharing our story with you, is not to receive your pity or sympathy, but to share with you one of the hundreds of similar experiences that happen every summer. The news media has dubbed these accidents as Forgotten Baby Syndrome. It's not a syndrome, but an actual scientifically proven brain function and failure. Dr. David Diamond has spent years researching the subject, I'm giving you his name for a reference if you feel the need to actually read the scientific facts on how easily it is to forget someone so important.

While I do not know all the facts in this case, I do know that a murder charge is over the top. And while I understand wanting to do something to prevent future incidents, this 'example' you're trying to set is not on the right person. Recently, a mother purposely left her child in the car in your state to take an exam; yes she was charged and arrested but the charge not as severe as for this man. These are the type of cases to use to set an example. The persons who knowingly leave their children in a hot car out of inconvenience, or those who are using drugs/alcohol and put their children in harms way or worse, end up killing the child need to have harsher punishments. Not the persons who had their mind fail them at the most needed times.

Do the right thing, let this man out on bail so that he may grieve for his child properly. If you feel that he is a risk to himself, get him help. But keeping him locked up is only going to do more damage to him, and the childs family. I, as well as many others, have spent countless hours trying to teach the dangers of hot cars, and it shatters me when I realize that until people understand that it can happen to them and take the precautions, there will always be stories like this. Do something positive to stop them, such as implementing Ray Ray's Pledge, or pushing for better technology that 'reminds' parents when the child is still in the car. A simple radio or tv warning is never going to get through to persons, until they know of a parent who has had it happen to them. A positive approach always works in my opinion.
Its Okay
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June 20, 2014
I murdered my neighbor, but hey, its okay

I have Murder My Neighbor syndrome.

Please refer to Dr. Seus for further information
anonymous
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June 21, 2014
Sarah L.: My heart goes out to you and your family, and I sincerely appreciate your great courage to write about your horrible tragedy. May God bless you for sharing.
Just Wait
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June 20, 2014
Let's look at the facts. That's right, you can't, because you don't know all the facts. That is why there is a police investigation. When they are finished, the DA will do his own investigation to make a final determination of what, if any, charges will be prosecuted. In the mean time, the father is charged with the most serious crime possible which can then be reduced as the investigation reveals facts. Don't beat up the DA or the police until the investigation is complete.
anonymous
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June 20, 2014
Hey...how about Vic Reynolds waiting until the investigation is completed before HE goes out and charges this man with FELONY MURDER?

Vic Reynold's immediate jump to charge this guy (before the investigation is complete)as if he were one of the most dangerous men on earth is ABSOLUTELY DISGUSTING! It is the sign of a public servant who is overcome with himself and the POWER he lords over the citizens or a publicity hungry political squirm/bully of a "district attorney".

There's not a DANG thing Vic Reynolds or his happy band of prosecutors can do to this guy to make Cobb County a safer place OR punish this guy any more than he already has been punished.

I am tired of idiot elected officials.

Let the Man Go Home
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June 20, 2014
This is a terrible abuse of discretion on the part of Vic Reynolds. Unless there's some evidence that this man left his son in the car on purpose, which certainly doesn't appear to be the case, charging him is a heartless act that doesn't make the community any safer. Let the poor man go home and grieve.
GoodMove
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June 21, 2014
And you are so quick to jump to the conclusion that there is no evidence....
Skrap
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June 20, 2014
With a murder charge, the father cannot get bail and must remain in jail. The father is distraught and potentially suicidal. The irony is that being in jail may be the best thing for him right now. Could the DA be trying to preserve his life? Doubtful, but it is interesting that by remaining in jail the chance of him committing suicide is less.
Cindi S.
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June 20, 2014
Perhaps the suicide will come later, simply because at this critical time he was denied his support system because of heavy-handed gov't intervention. He needs to especially grieve with his wife to save his marriage and to meet someone who will repeat that they still love him just as frequently as he speaks of his heavy guilt feelings. He needs to knoe he is still loved by someone out there - even after all that has happened. Please, to deny Mr Harris this merciful consideration makes the office of the DA appear to the public guilty of similar human injustices as those of which he is being accusted of by them.

no support system
Bill Clements
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June 20, 2014
Truly a tragedy for the entire family - I would suggest that DA Vic Reynolds is the perfect person to deal with the legality of this tragedy.

I am confident he is doing what is best considering what information is available at this time to protect the entire family of this poor little boy.
Horrible
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June 20, 2014
Unreal. Vic Reynolds couldn't even wait to let this man bury his son before he charged him knowing that no bond would be set once he was arrested. I guess Reynolds felt his own ten minutes of fame would be lost if he didn't strike while the media attention was growing. Where's the common sense here? This smells of an innocent mistake of which this father will pay for the rest of his life and politicians looking to capitalize off other's tragedies.
horrible tragedy
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June 20, 2014
Its crazy to charge that man with murder. His life is ruined, its over, he will never get over this. Leave him alone, quit the grandstanding, show some compassion for a terrible, terrible loss. I was just shocked to read the paper this morning. Wish I had never voted for Reynolds.
Do not judge
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June 20, 2014
This case is not for anyone else to judge. Those of you who are stating he should be sentenced to jail have no business commenting. Having a newborn and two year old is a lot of work. I am wondering why the daycare did not ask where Copper was when he dropped the baby off. As a teacher, that would have been my first question. Life is hectic, and this was a horrible accident. I hope the charges are dropped! Pray for this family.
IceDogg
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June 20, 2014
So, it's the daycare's fault?

anonymous
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June 20, 2014
My daughter and I talked about this tonight. What I am about to say is probably what my Grandmother said about progress she saw in her times, and is also what my Great-Grandmother said about progress she saw in her times, etc., in our society. It used to be that nobody had to worry about what was for dinner tonight because (I am in my 60's) we already knew Friday was fish night, Sunday was roast beef cooking while we were at church, Monday was meat loaf, etc. And there was no stress about grocery shopping because it was done on Saturday without a list because we all knew what to buy. If you were out with your family, well, you were out with your family. If somebody tried to call you, they got no answer (with no answering machine), and had to try again later to reach you. If they got a busy signal, that meant you were on the phone with somebody else and you had to try back later (no voice mail). Kids didn't need to schedule "play dates." They had all the play dates they could imagine just wondering around, riding bicycles unattended, etc. I could go on and on and for pages and pages. Remember, people, when Blackberry owners were to be envied for all their scheduling purposes? Try to sell a Blackberry now and you will get laughed out of town for an iPhone. It is our times. There is just too much on people's minds. Layoffs, takeovers, mergers. Words my parents never experienced. How do I squeeze another room I need out of this 5-bedroom home I already own that houses 3 people? We do need a bedroom for an office and a bedroom for crafts, exercise, etc. you know. How do I squeeze in a basement for a pool table, man cave, etc.? I do need granite countertops (although granite will go by the wayside just as laminate did). And multiple pictures of Kim K's hind end on her honeymoon is the premiere article on "news" magazines for days? It is the times. We all need to surround this man with our love. We all need to realize what is becoming to all of us. This man will suffer for the rest of his life. Please let's have some compassion here. And please let us all take a look at what we are doing to all of our children with this stress-flled, worry-filled, unhappy and divided society we have become.
????
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June 19, 2014
What I don't understand about this case is even at the end of the fathers work day he made it from Home Depot headquarters off Paces and 285 to Akers mill and 41 before he realized that his deceased son was still in the back seat? That's at least a 10-15 min drive. Was he still so busy at the end of his day that he missed the child in the back?
guest142
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June 24, 2014
After several hours in that heat I don't see how he wouldn't have noticed for that amount of time......
Sympathetic Prayers
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June 19, 2014
My heart goes out to this family. I cannot imagine what they are going through. In this extremely overly busy world in which we live, I cannot believe this doesn't happen more. I do not believe for a minute that this father did this on purpose. A stupid mistake - YES. However, a MURDER charge - no way. By the Grace of God, I am thankful that this never happened to me.
TPMcGill
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June 19, 2014
I would hate to be the judge or jury. This is a tragic situation and I'm not sure if several years in jail is the answer. We don't always need to jail people just because we are angry at them. Jail the ones who are a danger to society. I'm sure this Harris family will never be the same and I am praying for them.
ReallyPeople2014
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June 19, 2014
What I can't believe is the number of people that no absolutely nothing about this case that pipe up and assume that the wrong charges have been made against this man. We live in a world of people that have no soul and do terrible things you can't even dream of, but lets go after the DA and throw him under the political bus.

First off the DA didn't make the charges the police did. That being after they investigated the man, went before a magistrate judge and stated their case for the charges. The magistrate found the man should be charged. There are plenty of hearings in the future that will tell more of the story so you people can make a little more informed decision.

Don't forget the police and prosecution are representing the 22 month old child. He paid the ultimate price for this crime and never had a life. Don't assume dad is all upset about the situation and is innocent just by thinking how you would feel if it happened to you. Remember Susan Smith and how she rolled her kids into a lake.... bet you guys would want the DA's head for prosecuting her right??? Wait until some more information comes out and then decide who's the devil. The police sure don't think he did the right thing and I'm pretty sure they know a bit more than everyone on here.
krazus
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June 19, 2014
This is a tragedy and Vic Reynolds should be ashamed for this political grandstanding. If there was an indication the father was drunk, on drugs, or indication of malice then Reynolds would not be expressing doubt about the ultimate charges. This man is suffering the most unimaginable punishment that could ever be inflicted upon a human being and you have politicians holding him in jail without bond to steal a few headlines and get their name out. I pity those of you that cannot see this tragedy for what it is and wish further pain on this family.
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