Shock and disbelief were the primary emotions felt by spectators Thursday in Cobb County, Georgia, near Atlanta, as disturbing details were revealed in a hearing for Justin Ross Harris, the father accused of murdering his young son by leaving him in a hot car.
Harris did not phone police about his son until several hours later, in the early evening.
Rerevealed by police in court: that Harris and his wife had been having marital problems, and that text message records on his cellphone show him reaching out to several women who weren't his wife, including a minor to whom police say he texted a nude image of himself. In fact, police say Harris was sexting other women while
he was in the car with his son.
Cobb County Police Detective Phil Stoddard testified that under questioning the night of the death, Harris said he forgot to take the boy to day care. Stoddard says Harris routinely took the boy to day care in the mornings. He also said Harris was extremely specific recounting the details of his day.
Stoddard says Harris' wife Leanne came to the day care the afternoon the boy died, June 18, and was told the child wasn't there. According to witnesses, she then said her husband must have left the toddler in the car. After learning of the death, Leanne Harris's mother told investigators she had asked her why she wasn't crying. She responded that she 'must be in shock.' Leanne Harris also reportedly said to Harris in front of investigators, 'Did you say too much?'
Stoddard says Harris and Cooper stopped at a nearby Chik-fil-A for breakfast, a trip he made often enough for employees to recognize him. They said employees noted that Cooper seemed awake and happy at the time. Harris then drove just over a half mile to his workplace.
Cooper was in a rear-facing car seat in the middle of the back of Harris's car. Stoddard testified that that seat was in Harris's line of sight any time he turned to the right. Stoddard said the boy was technically too big for the car seat.
Harris told investigators he kissed Cooper after putting him in car after breakfast. He also said he had originally planned on seeing a movie with co-workers when he got off work.
Attorney Maddox Kilgore says his client had lunch with two friends the day the boy died and then came back to his SUV to put a couple of light bulbs he had purchased inside the vehicle.
Kilgore says Harris wouldn't have led his friends right up to the car if he had left the boy inside intentionally. Kilgore also said Harris had texted his wife later that afternoon, asking when she was going to pick up their son.
Later in the evening, when Harris says he first discovered Cooper's body, police say he took him out of the car and laid him on the ground. He then grabbed his cellphone as a witness performed CPR. Harris first called his wife, and then called Home Depot, where he worked.
Detectives said Harris showed no emotion as they questioned him about Cooper's death.
Detectives also got access to evidence of a dysfunctional marriage after searching Harris's cellphone. They saw that Harris was 'sexting' several women on messaging app Kik - including a 16-year-old girl. He expressed interest in meeting up with them.
Messages uncovered on the phone showed evidence that Leanne Harris was aware of the infidelities.
More details were revealed when officers checked Harris' work computer. Among them:
- He searched the website Reddit for videos of "people who die."
- He visited a Reddit website called "Child Free."
- He searched the internet using the phrase "how to survive prison."
- He searched the internet for the age of consent in Georgia.
- He searched the internet for information on heat-related deaths of animals, 5 days before Cooper's death.
Harris is charged with murder in connection with his child's death. Detectives at Thursday's hearing say given the evidence they've received, he also may soon be facing charges of sexual exploitation of a minor.
As of Thursday afternoon, police have not charged Leanne Harris with anything.
After several hours of testimony, the judge found probable cause based on the testimony, saying at the very least Harris was guilty of neglect. The judge denied bond, so he'll remain in custody until his next hearing.
Depend on NewsChannel9 to have more on this story as details continue to emerge.WSB-TV
contributed to this report.