Leanna Harris hires a criminal defense lawyer
by Hilary Butschek and Sarah Westwood
July 10, 2014 06:11 PM | 17205 views | 6 6 comments | 39 39 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Leanna Harris arrives to find a seat in a packed courtroom.
Leanna Harris arrives to find a seat in a packed courtroom.
Justin Ross Harris, his wife, Leanna, and son, Cooper, appear in this photo from their Facebook page, believed to be from last year.<br>Special to the MDJ
Justin Ross Harris, his wife, Leanna, and son, Cooper, appear in this photo from their Facebook page, believed to be from last year.
Special to the MDJ
MARIETTA — Leanna Harris has hired criminal defense attorney Lawrence Zimmerman of Atlanta to represent her, a source familiar with the case confirmed Thursday.

Public suspicion has fallen on Cooper Harris’ mother since police revealed she displayed few emotions upon learning of her child’s death last month and that, in an interview room at police headquarters the night of the incident, she asked her distraught husband,“Did you say too much?”

Leanna Harris’ husband, Justin Ross Harris, is behind bars while investigators continue to compile evidence to support the murder and child cruelty charges they have filed against him.

Many are wondering if Leanna Harris will soon be joining him.

Police will not discuss whether they consider Leanna Harris a suspect, though they have said they brought her into Cobb police headquarters off The Marietta Square for questioning June 18, the day Cooper died.

Joel Pugh, a Marietta attorney, said there are a number of reasons Leanna Harris would hire her own attorney at this point in the process.

“It could be as simple as her not wanting to talk to anybody and telling them to go through her attorney. It could be they have evidence that implicates her,” Pugh said. “It could be anywhere between those two extremes.”

Pugh said he knew Zimmerman, who he said once had an office just off the Square, from his days as an assistant district attorney.

“He’s a fine lawyer,” Pugh said of the man now reportedly representing Ross Harris’ wife. “He’s a nice guy.”

The fact that Leanna Harris has hired a lawyer to represent her is “not surprising,” Pugh noted.

“I think it’s a prudent thing for her to do, guilty or not guilty, at this point,” he said.

“To be honest, I’m a little surprised that it’s taken her this long to obtain legal counsel.”

Also Thursday, police confirmed earlier reports that the toxicology report on Cooper Harris was negative.

“Although the results have been received, the autopsy report, the toxicology report and any subsequent reports will not be released until the entire investigation has been completed,” police said in a statement released Thursday.

Differing views of father

Online profiles believed to have been created by Ross Harris, 33, show two conflicting sides to the man accused of murdering his 22-month-old son.

Although his alleged presence on dating websites and sexually-explicit chat rooms was highly publicized in Harris’ July 3 probable cause and bond hearing, it appears he also posted videos and messages online revealing his love for his son.

An eight-minute-long video titled “Baby Boy Cooper” was posted on the YouTube account of “Ross Harris” on March 19, 2012, and it shows an ultrasound taken the same morning of Cooper, before he was born.

The video ultrasound shows Leanna Harris as the mother of the child, who was 19 weeks and two days old at the time, according to the ultrasound.

The description of the video, written by the account owner, is “First video known as Cooper!”

The video, under which other members of YouTube have written derogatory comments in the last few days, had 386 views at press time.

One commenter wrote: “How could you kill that beautiful baby for your own selfish greed?,” under the screen name Danica Powell.

Dr. Gary Dudley, who founded a group of counselors, psychologists and social workers with an office in Marietta called the Atlanta Area Psychological Associates, said he thinks Harris must have been a happy father.

“I think someone that would post a video of a baby is pretty excited and happy about having a baby,” Dudley said. “He wanted his friends to know.”

During last week’s hearing, Detective Phil Stoddard, the state’s sole witness, testified Harris had frequented a Web page advocating a life without children he identified as “Child-free.”

The social media site Reddit, which Stoddard said hosted the child-free discussion page, has since removed that content.

A Reddit account believed to belong to Justin Ross Harris offers a window into what appears to be a normal, happy life.

“I am now in my dream job, have a beautiful six-month-old son, and love going to work everyday. I couldn’t be happier,” the user, suspected to be Harris, wrote over a year ago.

Posts thought to be written by Harris reveal his love of football, technology and his wife and child.

The writer makes several comments confessing his concerns about schools in his area and the safety of his family.

“My wife and I were a little worried about location since we don’t know (Atlanta) very well,” the person wrote in 2012 of the couple’s move from Alabama to Cobb. “I was especially worried about safety, since we’re bringing a little one into the world in August. I think I’m going to be happy with our choice.”

The user believed to be Harris said he and his wife were looking into moving to the Lassiter or Walton areas, and that he wanted to buy a house with at least four bedrooms.

Dudley, who has a master’s degree in clinical psychology and sees patients regularly as a therapist, said he thinks the behaviors online of the man believed to be Harris’s are typical of a father preparing for a child.

“When the wife is expecting, lots of men go into panic mode, like ‘I’ve got to make a lot of money. I’m going to have to pay for this kid’s college. And, I need to make sure it’s safe,’” Dudley said. “That’s sort of characteristic of men when their wife is expecting.”

In some posts, Harris’ likely profile discusses his plans to introduce his son — and any future children “if we have anymore” — to the Alabama football traditions he mentions frequently.

Job history

Harris’ suspected posts contain references to his job as a Web developer at the Home Depot in Vinings, which the writer said he enjoyed.

“I timed it the other day,” Harris allegedly once wrote of the drive from his home to his office. “I can get to work in six minutes.”

The timeline of how long it took Harris to drive to his office on Cumberland Boulevard June 18 has been the subject of much focus in the investigation into Cooper’s death.

Harris has maintained he forgot his son was still in the back seat of his SUV somewhere between the Chick-fil-A where he and Cooper stopped for breakfast that morning and the Home Depot corporate facility less than a mile down the road.

Stephen Holmes, a spokesman for the Home Depot, confirmed Harris has been terminated from his position in the company.

“We don’t discuss the details of individual personnel matters,” he said in an emailed statement Thursday.

Harris was previously placed on leave of absence without pay after his arrest per company policy.

The Reddit account thought to belong to Harris describes the long path he took to end up in Marietta with his wife and son.

“I was 27, working in law enforcement in Alabama on the midnight shift and I just knew something had to change,” he is believed to have written in a lengthy biographical post. “(M)y wife and I were sitting at the dinner table one night, crunched the numbers considering our income would be cut in half, and decided that I would quit work and go back to school.”

The user believed to be Harris said he left his position in the police department in the summer of 2009 to devote more time to school.

At the probable cause hearing last week, Stoddard testified Harris had a background in law enforcement and used “cop language” when police questioned him the night of his son’s death.

The post believed to be authored by Harris said he was offered a Web development job in August 2011 that would begin in June 2012, upon his graduation from the University of Alabama.

Cathy Andreen, spokeswoman for the University of Alabama, confirmed Harris graduated from the school in May 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in commerce and business administration.

Before he began attending the university, he worked there as a parking monitor and as a mail delivery clerk from 2001 to 2006, Andreen said, adding that he started classes at the school in August of 2009.

“Being the first person in my family to graduate college was nothing short of amazing, it felt great walking across that stage. So literally the next day after commencement, I moved everything I had, including a seven-month-pregnant wife, to Marietta, Ga., where we currently reside,” he wrote.

But the posts thought to be written by Harris also reveal he had amassed a pile of student loans while earning his information systems degree.

The writer said he realized he couldn’t afford his college classes after enrollment and discovered “loans were the way to go.”

“It’s been 100 percent loans for me because the income I was making barely covered living,” the post says.

Prosecutors attempted to draw a connection between two life insurance policies the couple had taken out on Cooper, their financial woes and the unexplained death of their child at last week’s hearing.

Warrants released over the weekend say Harris has contacted family members from behind bars as the investigation has unfolded, coaching them through the process by which they can collect on the $27,000 worth of insurance from Cooper’s policies.

Abortion and deafness posts

Among the hundreds of posts the user thought to be Harris wrote in the three years since creating his Reddit account are several impassioned attacks on abortion.

“Killing a person (in the sense of abortion) is selfish and malicious with the intent of only satisfying your own personal agenda,” the writer said.

Harris’ defense attorney, Maddox Kilgore, told a judge Harris was deaf in his right ear — the side that was closest to Cooper’s car seat — at the hearing last week.

While Stoddard testified police were never informed of Harris’ disability, posts from the account believed to belong to Harris detailed the incident that allegedly claimed his ability to hear on that side.

“I had a bottle rocket explode in my ear that was shot by friend,” the post reads. “It caused me to have vertigo/terrible balance and facial paralysis for long time, thankfully after two surgeries I have no outward issues, I’m just deaf in my right ear.”

However, the person believed to be Harris went on to say he was no longer affected by his partial deafness.

“I really can’t tell anymore,” he wrote. “I think my left ear has compensated for what I’m missing in my right ear.”

An alternate lifestyle?

The site believed to be Harris’ Twitter page, silent since his arrest last month, makes little mention of his wife and child.

But one tweet dating back to September of 2013 stands out given the accusations Harris now faces.

The re-tweeted joke hails a “new invention” to quiet down noisy children: “snooze buttons on babies.”

“I’m going to be a billionaire,” the man thought to be Harris writes of the snooze button idea, adding a hashtag at the end that says “shut up and take my money.”

While some of the online posts believed to be written by Harris paint him as a loving and careful father, his suspected presence on the dating service apps Skout and Kik may show proof he interacted with other women while he was married.

A profile on Skout, which features photos of Harris and is believed to be his, listed his relationship status as married, but says the user is interested in women. The Skout profile says, “Just looking to talk. Message me. I’m harmless.”

A profile under the name Ross Harris on Kik shows a profile name of “imsexy boy” and says the user is open to receiving messages.

Assistant District Attorney Chuck Boring said Harris exchanged sexually-explicit photos and messages with six women on these websites the day his son sat in his car parked outside for seven hours on June 18.

“The evidence is showing us right now that he’s got this whole other life that he’s leading with other personalities,” Boring said at the hearing.

“It’s very probable that he wants to be a family man and meet other women. Those are not mutually exclusive,” Dudley said of Harris’ seemingly contradictory behavior. “They’re conflicting, but a lot of people live with a lot of conflict in their lives.”

Ross Harris’ attorney, Maddox Kilgore, objected six times to 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.

The national media’s scrutiny of the Harris family in the weeks since Cooper’s death has caused Harris and his wife to pull down their Facebook pages and family pictures they had posted to the Internet.

Inga Meier, one of the Harris’ neighbors, said reporters continue to visit their complex in the hopes of learning new information about the couple.

She said the community’s property manager has since informed residents they can call the police if they see news crews roaming the premises.

“Everything is upside down,” she said of the community’s reaction. “Everybody is in shock and disbelief.”

Comments-icon Post a Comment
July 12, 2014
These people are innocent. There is NO evidence at all that points to them being found guilty of plotting to kill their child.

1st the insurance is very little and would not be worth being under the scrunity of being murderers.

2nd these are decent people leading a very ordinary respectable life. yes, the dad flirted on line and may have been having trouble in his marriage (and prob causing the distraction he had that day he forgot he had Cooper) but his actions are not even sleazy. A 17 year old ? big deal.

3rd I hope to heck they get a great lawyer and beat these charges. All the pics I've seen has shown Ross to be a loving proud dad. He is innocent. And so is Leanna.

Please stop judging and jurying them in the press, it's disgraceful!
July 17, 2014
Is this a joke?

1)How do you know how much insurance money would motivate someone to commit murder? People have been killed for far less.

2)Dad is a total sleazebag. Sexting junk pics to underaged girls? At WORK? R E A L L Y ?

3)You assume he must be innocent because of the few lovely family photos published in the press. Have you seen a photo of his little boy dead in the back seat? That happened too.
Mom comment
July 11, 2014
One of my cousins has been completely deaf in one ear since birth. I do not even know which one since, you never noticed it. He was even accepted into the Air Force. When he was divorced from his first wife ( the Air Force Colonels' daughter ) he was awarded full custody physical and legal of two children age 2 and 4 ( they are now about 20 and 22, with the youngest in college and the boy in the Army in Afghanistan). Then he remarried, had another child, divorced again and once again was awarded full custody of this daughter. She is probably about 4th to 5th grade. He works in the security field. My cousins being completely deaf in one ear has had no impact on his parenting ability. Twice he has had judges rule he was the better parent, and should be awarded full custody. He has worked full time and raised all three children. They are all great kids.

When Harris's lawyer first popped up with the deaf in one ear excuse all I could think is you have got to be kidding me.

I have another cousin on my other side of the family who is legally blind, has one glass eye, only sees light/ dark shadows. She has raised two children. Now a Florida court awarded her custody of her daughter's three children who are under 8. She also works full time as a customer service rep for AT&T. She only can't drive her husband has to take her to and from work and drop the children off and pick them up with her at daycare, since she can't drive. In fact, we were talking during the Casey Anthony case that those parents didn't even try to take their Grandchildren, from their daughter. She said look a Florida court two counties away gave me custody over my daughter, because she was irresponsible, but I am legally blind and 57 and am not.

So deaf and blind people can take care of children. Their remaining senses become more attuned and compensate.
July 11, 2014
I believe I can be impartial when I send them to death row.
Just Wait
July 11, 2014
I know that the public thinks it deserves to know all the facts, and rumors, about this case. However, I believe all this coverage has already tainted the jury pool so much that it will be impossible to have this case heard in Cobb County.
Vern Southern
July 11, 2014
I think there is way to much focus on the childfree angle of this story. This event (murder) was committed by a person or persons who regretted having this child. He/they could have put the child up for adoption and moved on. Instead a choice was made to take the child's life. This has nothing to do with the childfree community.
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