Defense in Harris toddler hot car death trial: Felony, malice murder charges conflict
by Hilary Butschek
September 04, 2014 12:30 PM | 8202 views | 6 6 comments | 32 32 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Cobb County District Attorney Vic Reynolds makes a short statement to the media Thursday in the jury assembly room as he comments on the grand jury indictment of Justin Ross Harris. Harris will be tried on charges of malice and felony murder in the June 18death of his son, 22 month-old Cooper Harris. <br> Staff Kelly J. Huff
Cobb County District Attorney Vic Reynolds makes a short statement to the media Thursday in the jury assembly room as he comments on the grand jury indictment of Justin Ross Harris. Harris will be tried on charges of malice and felony murder in the June 18death of his son, 22 month-old Cooper Harris.
Staff Kelly J. Huff
Maddox Kilgore, right, attorney for Justin Ross Harris, with partner Carlos Rodriguez, talks about the case outside the Cobb County Superior Courthouse on Thursday afternoon after his client was indicted by a Cobb County Grand Jury. <br>Staff Jeff Stanton
Maddox Kilgore, right, attorney for Justin Ross Harris, with partner Carlos Rodriguez, talks about the case outside the Cobb County Superior Courthouse on Thursday afternoon after his client was indicted by a Cobb County Grand Jury.
Staff Jeff Stanton
MARIETTA — Justin Ross Harris, who was indicted on murder charges Thursday, could be facing life in prison or the death sentence if convicted, said Kim Isaza, spokeswoman for the District Attorney’s Office.

Harris, 33, of Marietta, was indicted on eight charges by a Cobb grand jury as a result of the Cobb County police investigation into his 22-month-old son’s death.

A conviction of murder has three possible sentences: life in prison, life in prison without parole or the death penalty, Isaza said.

In a statement about the indictment, District Attorney Vic Reynolds alluded that further charges could come as the police continue to investigate the case.

“The evidence in the case has led us to this point …whether or not it leads us to anyone else remains to be answered,” Reynolds said.

Suspicion about the motives of Harris and his wife, Leanna Harris, grew when police discovered they had both searched the Internet for the length of time it takes for a person to die in a hot car, according to the warrants.

Lawrence Zimmerman, an Atlanta attorney representing Leanna Harris, said he thinks the district attorney was referring to his client in his statement today.

“I am surprised that the district attorney is still contemplating — after almost three months of reviewing the evidence — whether or not to charge my client, if that is who he was referring to in his press conference. By now, I would think they would have been able to make a final decision and clear her from any wrongdoing,” Zimmerman said.

Later in the day Maddox Kilgore, a Marietta attorney representing Harris, painted his client as a grieving father.

“A lot of you have asked how Ross is doing. Well, he’s doing terrible. He’s lost his son, his livelihood, his freedom. He’s basically lost everything,” Kilgore said.

In his first public statement about the case, Kilgore said Ross Harris did not intend to kill his son.

“The truth is Cooper’s death was a horrible, gut-wrenching accident. It was always an accident,” Kilgore.

Kilgore said the charges in the indictment contradict each other.

“We still don’t know what the state’s theory is,” Kilgore said.

Reynolds said he would not talk about the case before it goes to trial.

“I will not comment today on any evidentiary matters,” Reynolds said.

Kilgore detailed the charges one by one, saying the prosecution is accusing Ross Harris of two types of murder: one that implies Ross Harris meant to kill Cooper Harris and one that implies his death was an accident.

“The first count charges Ross with malice murder — that is that he intended to kill his son,” Kilgore said.

Kilgore contrasted that charge with two counts of felony murder, one he said meant Ross Harris “intended — not to kill his son — but to maliciously cause him pain” and another he said meant Ross Harris “left Cooper there with full knowledge.”

Kilgore said the prosecution needs to pick one theory, and he said he only has one defense.

“Ross doesn’t have any theories. He has the truth,” Kilgore said.

Kilgore said the truth is Cooper Harris’s death was an accident.

Ross Harris’ case will now be heard in front of a jury in Cobb Superior Court before Judge Mary Staley. Reynolds said the next step in the case is an arraignment hearing, which should be scheduled for a date in the next two or three weeks.

After the arraignment, where Ross Harris will enter his plea against the charges, Reynolds said motions can be filed in the case by either the DA or Kilgore. Reynolds said a trial date will be set after motions are filed.

Ross Harris has been in the Cobb County jail since June 18, the day his son was found dead in the back of his car. Police said Ross Harris left his son in the back of his car for seven hours that hot summer day, when temperatures reached 88 degrees, according to Dobbins Air Reserve Base’s weather service. Police have said cars can quickly heat up to temperatures above 100 degrees when left in direct sunlight.

Police said Ross Harris was at work at Home Depot, where he was an IT developer, while his son was in the car. Ross Harris told police he found his son dead in the back of his car while driving from work to meet friends at a movie theater.

Cobb police charged Ross Harris with felony murder and child cruelty the same day, and he has not left the jail since because he was denied bond at his probable cause hearing July 3.

Police began reporting some results of their investigation to the DA this week, Isaza said.

“Last time I checked, (the DA’s office) had most of the police’s investigation, but (police) were still looking into some things,” Isaza said Thursday.

Police have not finished their investigation into the toddler’s death, said Officer Michael Bowman, spokesman for the Cobb County police.

“The investigators will turn the case file over to the District Attorney’s Office when they have completed the total investigative process,” Bowman said.

One new charge Ross Harris faces, malice murder, shows intention, according to the indictment.

The indictment states Ross Harris “did unlawfully, and with malice aforethought, cause the death of Cooper Harris, a human being, by placing said Cooper Harris into a child car seat and leaving him alone in a hot motor vehicle.”

Other charges against Ross Harris include two counts of felony murder, one count of child cruelty in the first degree, one count of child cruelty in the second degree, criminal attempt to commit a felony and two counts of dissemination of harmful material to minors.

The charges of cruelty to children are for causing “cruel and excessive pain by leaving (Cooper Harris) in a hot motor vehicle,” according to the indictment.

The counts of dissemination of harmful material to a minor list a female under the age of 18 as the victim. During Ross Harris’ July 3 hearing, police revealed they found he had a history of exchanging nude photos with strangers, at least one of them a minor, in online chat rooms.

According to the indictment, Ross Harris sent “a photograph and visual image of a portion of the human body which depicted sexually explicit nudity,” to the minor.

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September 05, 2014
I believe the Grand Jury indicted Harris not because he killed his son intentionally or otherwise but for supposedly sending naked pictures over the internet to naughty women. The sexting if it did actually happen was not relevant to the child's death and it should not have been brought up because it could and probably did taint the jury pool. There unfortunately have been child deaths in hot cars before this incident and child deaths after. So, it looks like Mr. Harris is being singled out for prosecution or is that persecution. White, male and sexting. What a safe hassle free political case for the DA to Nifong on! And of course it is an old saying that a Grand Jury will indict a ham sandwich if it was accused of something.
September 07, 2014
I believe that their first suspicion was over his son's death. It wasn't until later that they discovered the texts.
September 05, 2014
There has been a lot of news coverage on this Harris case. Mr. Reynolds and CCPD is doing the right things here. That little boy was obeying his dad, he never made a move to escape. Mr. Harris knew hi son was in that hot vehicle and why he killed his son can be said for a lot of reasons; even the mother should be hurt and very depressed over the loss of her appear that she is not. You cannot say this man did not kill his son, he purely did knowing that this topic, hot car death would be easy; yet, it was not hard to prove he knew it would kill his own little boy who has not been in this world for a length of time to enjoy what little boys always does...that is playing in his yard and meeting other little boys who they may become friends.
September 05, 2014
Good for Vic Reynolds to pursue justice for this little boy. Any person on that grand jury must see the truth like most of us do. Now its time to charge the mom also.
September 05, 2014
Harris may like to do the sexting thing, but he did not murder his son.

Reynolds and CCPD are nobody's hero. Just more government minds run amuck.

September 07, 2014
If he didn't knowingly leave Cooper in the car, he was the most clueless, unlucky, unaware person ever. How could you return to your car not once but twice and not realize your child was in the back? How could you research what happens when you leave a child in a hot car "Because it was your worst fear" and not take steps to PREVENT it? All he did was make it even more likely that it would happen.

My worst fear was that my son would die of SIDS. I bought an AngelCare monitor, made sure I followed all the recommendations for safe sleeping, and I still checked, and double checked, and triple checked... Let's just say woke up many times a night to make sure my son was still breathing. I took precautions. I had a slight fear of leaving my son in the car so when I drove my purse and phone went in the back seat. That is one of the many recommendations for parents to keep from leaving their child in a hot car. Show me where he researched how to prevent that and not just how long it takes. And how long it takes implies that he planned at the very least to leave his son in the car for some length of time. Perhaps while he hooked up with one or more of the women he was texting. I don't care if he just planned to leave him but didn't plan to kill him. He's still guilty of the same thing in my opinion because he knew what could happen if he left him for even a short amount of time.

I can guarantee you that daddy wouldn't have forgotten his phone all day. Oh no he'd have been back out there within the hour if he'd left that. At the very least his sexting had him so distracted and acting like an addict that he left his son to die because he wasn't as important as naked pictures. And that is totally relevant. Even more so if even 1 of those texts had him claiming to not have any children.

I'm sick of children dying in this horrible manner because parents "forget" them. And I believe that more than a few murder their child this way because they know that others tend to believe it's an accident. Tend to feel great empathy for the parents. I'm betting that something seemed terribly wrong with the way that Ross acted or the police would never have doubted his story.

I have no empathy for him at all. Not sure I have any for robo-mama either. I want to. I was prepared to... But she just acted so beyond creepy at her son's funeral and in court the first time. She didn't look or act like any grieving person I've ever seen. EVER!
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