Cobb Magistrate Judge Frank Cox denied Harris’ bond after three hours of statements from attorneys, witnesses and officers investigating the case.
Harris, 33, who was charged with murder after leaving his toddler in a hot car all day on June 18, will stay in jail for at least the next several months as his case goes to a grand jury. It could be nearly a year before the case goes to trial, according to Cobb District Attorney spokeswoman Kim Isaza. If the state seeks the death penalty, Isaza said it could take even longer before a trial begins.
Detective Phillip Stoddard took the stand at the hearing Thursday to reveal new details of the case that has garnered international attention since the unexplained death of 22-month-old Cooper Harris.
Stoddard was the only witness brought forth by the state, but he revealed a plethora of new information when questioned by Assistant District Attorney Chuck Boring.
Among the new revelations was the fact Harris had been carrying on multiple sexually-charged conversations — complete with the exchange of nude photographs — with women via instant messaging services throughout the day of his son’s death. At least one of the women was a minor, Stoddard said.
Harris’ attorney, Maddox Kilgore, objected six separate times to the line of questioning when Boring began asking about the women and sexually-charged conversations.
“That has nothing to do with anything,” Kilgore said.
After overruling the first several objections, Cox finally agreed Boring was “beating a dead horse.”
Stoddard also testified that Harris’ wife, Leanna, had acted strangely calm upon hearing of her son’s death.
When Leanna Harris arrived at Little Apron day care center to pick up Cooper after work that day and employees informed her that her child had never arrived, Stoddard said she immediately told them her husband had forgotten Cooper in the car. Though others in the room brought up alternate possibilities, Leanna Harris insisted the child must have been left in the car.
Stoddard said Leanna Harris was taken into police headquarters for questioning the same night, where she was briefly reunited with her husband in an interview room.
As Ross Harris broke down over what would happen to him and whether he would lose his job over the incident, Stoddard said she asked her husband, “Did you say too much?”
Three rows of the packed courtroom were filled by Ross Harris’ family, including his wife. Leanna Harris appeared to show little emotion during the hearing. Family members did not speak with the media before or after the hearing.
Ross Harris had initially told police he simply forgot to drop Cooper off at day care before heading into work at the Home Depot corporate office that day.
Stoddard said Ross Harris had dropped off Cooper at day care six of the last nine work days, indicating it was part of his normal routine.
The two stopped for breakfast at a Chick-fil-A located less than a mile from where Ross Harris worked. Stoddard said surveillance video shows Cooper Harris was wide awake at the restaurant. Ross Harris backed his car into the spot that morning, which meant he would have turned around to see where he was going, Stoddard said.
Ross Harris told police after the incident he noticed Cooper while making a right turn near the Akers Mill shopping center. But Stoddard said Ross Harris would have made a similar right turn as he entered his workplace that morning.
Before heading to work, Stoddard said Harris backed his SUV into his parking spot, turning around to look in the process. Stoddard said the car seat would have been only six inches behind the vehicle’s front seat, and Cooper Harris was actually too tall for the seat’s regulations.
“The head was clearly visible,” Stoddard said.
Stoddard said Ross Harris returned to his car during lunch to drop off a box of light bulbs he purchased during his break. Stoddard added surveillance video from the office’s parking lot shows Harris stopped and turned back to watch as another individual walked by his car before he headed back inside for the rest of the day.
Early in the afternoon, Ross Harris received an email from Cooper’s teacher at the day care center, according to Stoddard.
Later, Harris was supposed to meet friends at the AMC Parkway Pointe movie theater on Highway 41. The group was going to see “22 Jump Street” at 5 p.m. Stoddard said Harris told friends at 3:45 that he would be late. Though Ross Harris was heading toward the theater when he pulled into the Akers Mill shopping center, he was less than a mile away when he entered the shopping complex at about 4:15. He also told detectives that night he had left early to avoid traffic.
Stoddard said witnesses described bizarre behavior at the scene after Harris stopped and placed his son on the hot pavement.
One told police Harris would yell “Oh my God!” one second, then his face would suddenly go blank.
When a witness began administering CPR to his son, Stoddard said Harris got on his phone. Records show he called his wife first, followed by the Little Apron day care. He did not call 911.
Police later asked Harris to stop talking on the phone, to which he replied, “f--- you,” Stoddard said.
June 18 interviews
Stoddard pointed out several details of Ross Harris’ interviews with police that night.
These included Harris talking at length about how much he knew about car seats and saying his child fell asleep between the drive from Chick-fil-A to the Home Depot. Stoddard said he’d driven the route at least 10 times and it takes between 30 and 40 seconds. In interviews, Stoddard said the day care employees reported Cooper usually arrived alert and happy in the mornings.
Ross Harris told detectives he always kissed his son when he put him in his car seat, just in case they died in an accident. Detectives, who watched from behind a one-way mirror, noticed Harris showed no emotion, according to Stoddard.
While Stoddard said he heard Harris tell his wife at police headquarters that Cooper looked “peaceful” when he died — after admitting to her that he “dreaded how he would look” — Stoddard said Cooper’s body was stiff and parts of his face “discolored” in a graphic description of what he said the body really looked like.
Stoddard said the medical examiner found scratches on Cooper’s face that happened recently enough to lack scabs at the time of his death as well as abrasions on the back of the child’s head.
He said Cooper’s death would have been painful.
Boring keyed in on the phrase “dreaded how he would look,” saying it shows Harris anticipated what he saw.
Leanna Harris also was interviewed that night. Stoddard said she too showed little emotion, but did say the situation was her “worst nightmare.” Police asked about her calm demeanor.
“Leanna responded, ‘I must have been in shock,” Stoddard said.
In Ross Harris’ interview, Stoddard said it was “all about him” as he made statements such as “I can’t believe this is happening to me” and spoke more about his job and the charges than the son he lost.
When police told Ross Harris he was being charged with murder, Stoddard said he responded with, “but there’s no malicious intent.”
An odor in the car
Stoddard said the Harris family had taken out two insurance policies on their son: a $2,000 policy through The Home Depot and a $25,000 policy dating back to November of 2012.
He said Harris recently visited a website he called “Child Free,” which described the benefits of not having children. He also sought out videos of people dying and performed searches about surviving in prison.
Harris had watched a video, made by a veterinarian, about dogs suffering in hot cars, twice, Stoddard said. He said the first time Harris saw the video was June 13, just five days before leaving his son to die in a sweltering car.
Boring asked Stoddard about any odors that were in the car. Stoddard said two of his detectives noticed a strong stench more than an hour after Harris pulled into the Akers Mill parking lot.
“It smelled like decomposition, or death,” Stoddard said.
Boring sought no bond on behalf of the state, saying Harris is a flight risk and a man with alternate personalities. Harris also has law enforcement experience. Harris was a dispatcher in Tuscaloosa at one time and his brother is a police sergeant.
Kilgore asked for $50,000 bond.
“Where could Harris go and not be recognized?” he asked Stoddard.
Kilgore said not every witness gave the same story, bringing a man named Leonard Madden to the stand ,who spoke about Harris’ emotional outbursts at the scene.
“I felt his pain,” Madden said. “I even wept.”
Harris’ vehicle has tinted windows, Kilgore said. He also said Harris bought light bulbs at The Home Depot while out at lunch. His friends drove him to his car afterward and saw him place the light bulbs in his car. None of them said they noticed unusual behavior.
Kilgore said Harris is completely deaf in his right ear. The family did not have debt collectors coming after them and police had no proof their bank accounts were overdrawn, according to Kilgore.
Harris texted his wife the question, “When are you going to get my buddy?” according to Kilgore, though Stoddard said that text couldn’t be found in phone records obtained by police.
A witness called by Kilgore named Alex Hall said he’s a close friend of Harris. The two attended the University of Alabama together and both worked at The Home Depot. Hall was part of the group going to see the movie June 18.
“He said he loved his son all the time,” Hall said.
As Hall spoke, Harris began to show emotion for the first time, more than an hour after the hearing began.
Kilgore said police had shown no evidence Harris left the child in the car on purpose.
“It’s not criminal negligence,” Kilgore said. “It’s a horrible, horrible accident.”
Kilgore argued there was not even enough evidence to support a misdemeanor, and pleaded with Cox to throw out the warrant.
He chided police and the media for “publicly shaming” Harris, saying “it’s not like his family hasn’t been through enough.”
Boring seemed put off by Kilgore’s statements.
“There’s a good bit of theater here,” he said.
Boring countered the evidence in the case is overwhelming and asked that a request for bond be declined.
Cox said probable cause is a “low threshold,” ruled there is enough probable cause for a trial to proceed and denied Harris’ bond.