Examiner says toddler died from heat
by Sarah Westwood and Haisten Willis
June 25, 2014 06:00 PM | 14454 views | 17 17 comments | 40 40 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Justin Ross Harris
Justin Ross Harris
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Cooper Harris
Cooper Harris
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download Justin Ross Harris Warrant 14w5669-2
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MARIETTA — Police are now saying the father whose 22-month-old son died after being left in a hot car for seven hours did not act out of “simple negligence.”

“This investigation, although similar in nature to others, must be weighed on its own merit and the facts that lead our detectives to charge the father must be presented at the appropriate time during the judicial process,” said Cobb Police Chief John Houser in a release. “The chain of events that occurred in this case does not point toward simple negligence and evidence will be presented to support this allegation.”

The county medical examiner’s office has released the cause of Cooper Harris’ death as hyperthermia, or elevated body temperature.

Justin Ross Harris, 33, of Marietta initially told police he forgot to take his son Cooper to day care on the morning of June 18 before heading into work at The Home Depot’s headquarters in Cumberland.

By the time Harris made his way home in his Hyundai Tucson that afternoon, Cooper was dead.

An updated arrest warrant obtained Wednesday indicates Harris stopped for breakfast at a Chick-fil-A near his office and then placed his son in the back of his car.

According to police, Harris left his office during lunch, went to his car and opened the driver’s side door to “place an object in the vehicle.”

Police say he did not acknowledge the fact that his son, who was strapped into a rear-facing car seat in the center of the back seat, was in the car until he had driven part of the way home after work.

A release from Cobb police indicated the manner of death was homicide given the “investigative information” authorities have gathered.

The statement, released Wednesday evening, clarified the definition of homicide in the medical sense simply denotes a “death caused by another.”

During a press conference Wednesday evening at Cobb police headquarters, spokesman Mike Bowman said Harris and witnesses were questioned at the scene. Harris was then taken to police headquarters for questioning, which led to his arrest.

Bowman would not elaborate on details of the investigation, giving only hints of its findings so far.

“There’s a difference between negligence and gross negligence,” he said. “The thing about negligence is it can happen to anybody. Gross negligence shows there are some other circumstances revolving around it.”

Bowman urged patience from the public, saying he hadn’t checked any social media sites himself since the case broke in order to keep a neutral mind.

“Let us do our job; don’t be so quick to judge,” Bowman said. “This isn’t an everyday thing.”

Reached by phone, Harris’ Marietta-based attorney Maddox Kilgore declined to comment on the case.

“For right now, I can’t make any comment,” he said.

Some remain unconvinced

Left in a car in the hot sun, Cooper Harris likely was dead within the first hour, according to Janette Fennell, president and founder of KidsAndCars.org, a Missouri-based group that studies child deaths involving cars.

According to Dobbins Air Reserve Base, the temperature was 88 degrees when the child was found at 4 p.m. Fennell said temperatures inside a closed car top out at 40 degrees hotter than the outside air.

Fennell said she wouldn’t be surprised if Ross Harris opened his car door at noon and didn’t notice the child, especially if Harris only reached in for a moment.

“You don’t see something you’re not looking for,” Fennell said.

One difference between the updated warrant and the one produced last week is the cruelty to children charge has been changed from first degree to second degree.

Ray Gary, Jr., a Marietta-based attorney, explained the difference between first and second degree cruelty to children.

“All crimes have two elements, the act and the intent,” Gary said. “If something is an accident, it’s not a crime. For first-degree cruelty to children it’s malicious intent; for second degree, which is easier to prove, it’s negligence.”

Gary said it looks like police are “backing up a little bit,” and changing to a lesser charge in hopes of moving the case forward.

The change could make little difference overall since the felony murder charge remains. A conviction for felony murder can lead to a life sentence in prison, according to Cobb District Attorney Vic Reynolds.

The warrant indicates police think Harris left his son in the car on purpose, Gary said.

“If you left a child in the car on purpose and it caused their death, it’s felony murder,” Gary said.

But Gary, a former Cobb magistrate court judge, said based on what he’s seen so far he still can’t figure out why Harris was charged with murder.

“The fact he came back later to put something in the car, that doesn’t tell me he remembered the child was there,” Gary said. “I haven’t seen anything that indicates he did it on purpose.”

Court hearing moved up

Harris pulled into the Akers Mill Square strip mall off Akers Mill Road shortly after 4 p.m. that afternoon and begged strangers there for help.

First responders pronounced Cooper dead at the scene.

Fox 5’s Randy Travis reported Wednesday investigators seized Harris’ office computer following his arrest. A law enforcement source told Fox 5 someone searched for information on how long it would take an animal to die in a hot car.

Bowman was asked about the search during the press conference, but did not elaborate.

Harris remains in the county jail, where he is being held without bond. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him. A spokesperson for the sheriff’s office said Harris would not be transported to his son’s funeral, which will take place Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The presiding clergy will be David Eldridge, pastor of Stonebridge Church just off the Marietta Square, where the family attended locally.

The county magistrate court reported Harris will next appear in court July 3, where the issue of his bond will be addressed.

Judge Frank Cox, chief of Cobb’s magistrate court, will preside over the hearing, which was moved up from July 15.

Family receives support

Cooper Harris’ obituary, submitted by Tuscaloosa Memorial Chapel on Wednesday, describes his parents as a loving mother and father.

“Cooper was born on Aug. 2, 2012, to the most proud parents there could have ever been,” reads the obituary. “He was loved and cherished and protected by both parents and all family members for his short 22 months of life.”

The family also thanked those who have supported them through the ordeal.

“The family would like to express their sincerest thank you to those who have supported them during this tragic time,” the obituary reads. “The outpouring of love has been tremendously overwhelming in the best way possible. Specifically, we would like to thank any individuals who have chosen to support our family, whether it has been financial or spreading the word of support and prayers for the loss of our sweet Cooper.”

One group supporting Harris is The Home Depot, which has donated funds for Cooper Harris’ funeral, according to company spokeswoman Catherine Woodling.

“It is our standard approach for the Homer Fund to provide grants for funeral expenses for associates,” Woodling said.

The Homer Fund is a nonprofit charity started by Home Depot in 1999, according to its website. The maximum grant is for $10,000, according to Woodling.

“We’re not really commenting on the actual investigation, but we would do this for any associate that is in need,” Woodling said.

A YouCaring.com fund set up to help the family has raised $22,162.

Comments
(17)
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Olde Mayretta
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June 26, 2014
I don't know this guy from Adam, but from everything I've read I still think the child was accidentally left in the car. Once the father realized it (the reason he went to the car at lunch) he panicked and tried to cover up his mistake. That's still a crime, just not murder.
overreach
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June 26, 2014
There was no reason for the cops to charge him with felony murder 1 - now the underlying charge to that child abuse has been downgraded. If they had any conscience at all they would have charged him with child abuse (an offense he could have bonded out on) and continued their investigation. This man should be home with his wife and dealing with the loss of their child. There is no reason to have him in jail without bond while the grandstanding cops leak stuff to the press. What a bunch of schmucks!

South Cobb Parent
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June 26, 2014
Still think the police overcharged him and now they are feeling the heat about it since the whole country is watching. In fact already they have given false statements to the public (first proclaiming there were 2 children) and if you notice they lowered the child abuse charge. Just because the Dad opened his car door at noon means nothing. This guy by all accounts was a great dad - accidents happen.
anonymous
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June 26, 2014
Somebody is grand-standing here. I don't know who it is, but it is somebody, I know that for sure. All types of horrible, God-awful events take place every day, every hour in our land of America. If is the District Attorney of Cobb County, he should have just said "this is an ongoing investigation and there will be no further comments until the investigation is complete." This has disturbed America. This case was on major cable news shows today. Again, I say grand-standing. I guarantee you that dozens of little children died on this very same day due to neglect in America. Today's media is sickening. Girl in chicken place disrespected proven to be false. Stop it, media. Start giving us positive news and maybe that is what is wrong with America. I shared this story with somebody that doesn't watch the news and their reaction was, "Why do they need to tell us about this? I helped a crippled guy today with a flat tire. Why didn't I did something positive and uplifting make it into the media?" Our American media has gone to the trash can. This sensationalism in this case proves my statement.
Mom comment
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June 26, 2014
The mailman and my dad found a tenant my father had had in a mobile home for over 50 years from 1954. The guy had the heat up and was sitting in his boxer shorts watching TV in the middle of winner. My father said when the police and fire department opened up that mobile home it reeked of death. It is a smell you can never get rid of in your whole life. My father had to get his next of kin to donate the mobile home to the fire department for burn practice, then sell the remains for scrap metal. You can't get rid of the smell.

A SUV on an 89 degree day would be worse than a 1954 tin mobile home in the winter with the heat. As Randy Travis from Fox 5 said the police said even if he did not see the child he had to smell death.
mom comment
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June 25, 2014
I couldn't understand why he would have a 22 month old in a rear facing car seat. My youngest is 14, so I looked up Georgia law, it clearly says that only children younger than 1 year or who weigh less than 20 lbs need to be in a rear facing car seat.

I did not understand why the car seat was buckled in the middle of the back. Car seats and booster seats are suppose to be buckled by with both the lab belt and the shoulder belts which are on the side positions, unless they are already occupied by another child under 8.

Why should the child seat be front facing so you can engage your child looking in the mirrors. So you can hand your child a bottle, pacifier, toy, book, or ever cereal.

I have never understood why this guy looked so unshaven that day. Having lived around the corner from HD store support that is not dress cod.
Jane247
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June 26, 2014
Actually your information isn't all correct. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends keeping children rear facing until the age of 2 or until they exceed the height and weight limits for the carseat. Most car seats have limits in the 30-50 pound range so technically most children under 2 should still be rear facing. Many parents go by the old standards of flipping the car seat around at 1 year, but I know our pediatrician recommended keeping our daughter rear facing as long as possible. She just turned 2 and weighs 24 pounds.

We also have her carseat installed in the middle of the back seat. We have always had them installed by the safety pros and they recommend putting them in the middle if you can. Our SUV (and many vehicles now) have shoulder belts for the middle seat. However, it is not a requirement. Our previous vehicle was an older model with only the lap belt and it was still recommended we keep the carseat in the middle installed with just the lap belt.
mom comment
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June 26, 2014
@ Jane I am quoting Georgia Law, not the ever changing American Pediatric Standards. I am an old mom in My 50's. Sorry. My children were both turned to the front at one year and 22 lbs. They both only weighed 25 lbs at two. Kids don't like facing sitting rear.

I had three Volvo station wagons, with the third seats. My own kids never wanted to sit in the rear seat only guest children who liked the novelty. I also bought the Volvo's for the built in booster seats, in the second row that I paid extra for. Then BMW finally came out with the 3 series SUV that you could also order with built-in booster seats. I also decided I was sick of being every other parents taxi to camp, so having a 5 passenger vehicle was nice.

Kids even babies and toddlers get sick from riding rear facing. Plus I want to see a child's face in the mirror to see if they are breathing or choking.

Look up Georgia Law. Rear facing only until 1 year or 20 lbs. That is current. Then when they get to booster car age the safest thing is to buy a car with built in booster seats. That way you know they are installed safely, and always with the car. If you can't afford a new luxury car with them buy a used one ( 2-3 year old one) for the same price as a new one that does not have all the safety upgrades your kids are worth it. Your insurance will be less as well.
dmrosser
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June 25, 2014
Sounds like he went out to the car at lunch to make sure the child was dead. Very, very sad!!
Very odd
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June 25, 2014
It is odd that he ate breakfast with his son and didn't drop him off at daycare two minutes later. Then he went to his car and still didn't think about his son. Why did he leave work and not pick his son up from daycare? Not only did he forget to drop him off, but he forgot to pick him up? That would have been when he figured out that he didn't drop him off. It all seems a bit odd. I think a bunch of people owe Vic Reynolds an apology! Not to mention, you are helping pay for his defense if you donated money! Yeesh!
Comment2
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June 26, 2014
I agree! It is very odd. I heard a report yesterday from KidAndCars.org reporting that forgetting children in cars happens more than people think. It is odd he ate breakfast, strapped his son into his car seat, drove down the street minutes away, and forgot his son was in the car. It is also odd that the investigators found a search on his computer "how long an animal takes to die in a hot car." This could be a coincidence and maybe not even from a search he had made.
Not convinced
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June 25, 2014
This has all the signs of a rush to judgment by the police DA. Its a tragedy that this happened but I do not see a case where it was intentional. So they ate at Chick fil A, what does that matter? And there are many times I drop things in my car at lunch never looking in the back seat. It still looks to me like an awful mistake that the DA is trying to make a name for himself with. I may be wrong but I haven't seen any evidence of conscious murder.
Just Wait
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June 25, 2014
I guess all those who jumped to judgement and blamed the police and DA for charging this guy and donated all that money to him feel pretty foolish now. And they should.
Monkey Man
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June 25, 2014
Bleeding heart liberals are destroying this country, typical jump to conclusions without facts.
anonhkhkjhh
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June 25, 2014
why should they feel foolish? Nothing proving any intent, even the former judge acknowledges this. If there was an internet search done at a computer at the office, there is no indication who made the search, when it was made, or in what context it was used. The search could have been made 5 years ago for all we know by a co-worker.

What is disturbing is the fact that the police are leaking information to the press which is very unprofessional for any police force. They simply want to try to publicly try the case without him having a fair hearing. Criminal convictions have been reversed for this type of misconduct. The police know they are in the wrong which is why they are allowing this conduct to continue.
Just Wait
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June 26, 2014
@Monkey Man...it's not "bleeding heart liberals" here, it is primarily parents wanting to give this guy the benefit of the doubt.

@anonhkhkjhh...you or any of the others are not privy to the details of the investigation. You form you opinions based on media reports, disbelief and sympathy. If there is any "leaking" from the police, it is because the public believes they have the right to know every detail instantly when the only ones who deserve this information is a jury.
Move On
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June 25, 2014
Please haul this discussing human to court in a secure van and lock him inside in the heat and forget about him. Save us taxpayers the cost of a trial and feeding him for life!!!
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