A police detective testified during a court hearing today that the Georgia father who is accused of intentionally leaving his son to die in a sweltering car all day was sexting a teen-aged girl and another woman while the the 22-month-old boy succumbed to the heat and died in the SUV. The detective’s appearance in court was part of a probable cause hearing in the case. Prosecutors believe that this sort of behavior by the father is pertinent when considering the state of mind of defendant Justin Ross Harris, 33, who they say wanted to “live a child-free life.”
During the court hearing today, Cobb County, Georgia, Police Detective Phil Stoddard told the judge that Harris’ son, Cooper, died painfully, a conclusion which is contrary to what Harris told his wife regarding the moment he discovered his son. According to Stoddard, Harris told his wife that Cooper’s eyes and mouth were closed and that he appeared peaceful in death, but police evidence photos show that his eyes were open when he died.
Stoddard also revealed that after Harris discovered that Cooper was still in the back of the car and was deceased, he pulled over and asked for help, but when police arrived, he was speaking on his cell phone and did not disconnect the call until after he had twice refused to do so and swore at officers, at which time he was arrested. Stoddard also testified that while Harris was being interviewed after his son was discovered dead, Harris showed no emotion.
The detective is in support of Harris being further denied bond, saying that the man had been living a “double life” that included exchanging graphic photos with several women both before and during the day of his son’s death. In addition, the detective believes that Harris is a flight risk due to the fact that the Tuscaloosa, Alabama, native still has family living in the state as well as law enforcement knowledge that comes from his past work as a 911 dispatcher. Harris has resided in Georgia since 2012, when he moved in order to work for Home Depot.
Harris told investigators that he had taken Cooper to breakfast at Chick-fil-A on June 18 and then forgot to drive Cooper to day care; instead driving the 10 miles to his work and going inside without realizing that the toddler was still in his car seat in the back of the vehicle. Arrest records in the case show that Harris went back to his Hyundai Tucson during his lunch break and opened the driver’s side door to stow something inside – seemingly without noticing that Cooper was still in his car seat in the back. Harris left work at approximately 4:15 p.m. before pulling over and asking for help with Cooper, who had been left in the SUV for approximately seven hours. At 5:16 p.m., according to a police warrant filed in the case, the temperature in Cobb County, Georgia, was 88 degrees.
During court today, it was also revealed that in addition to exchanging graphic text messages, Harris had also searched the Internet for information on living a child-free life and surviving in prison. Harris has been held without bond on charges of second-degree child cruelty and murder.
By Jennifer Pfalz
Detroit Free Press