Georgia toddler death: Who is Justin Ross Harris?

Justin Ross Harris

Justin Ross Harris

ATLANTA (CNN) — Who is Justin Ross Harris, the Georgia man whose toddler son died after being left in a hot car?

Depends on whom you ask.

Prosecutors portray him as an unfaithful husband who wanted a childless life while the defense describes him as a doting dad who kissed his son every time he put him in the car.

And friends say he loved to show off the blond, bright-eyed boy and talked about him incessantly.

At a probable cause hearing Thursday, previously tight-lipped authorities provided more insight about Harris, who is charged with felony murder and second-degree child cruelty in last month’s death of 22-month-old Cooper Harris. He has pleaded not guilty.

Here’s what we know:

Harris was sexting the day his son died:

While at work during the day, Harris messaged six women, according to Cobb County police Detective Phillip Stoddard, the prosecution’s lead investigator. He allegedly exchanged explicit photos, including one of an erect penis that he sent to an underage woman.

He’s deaf in his right ear:

The defense brought up this point several times, perhaps to justify why Harris did not hear his son’s movement in the car.

“I always have to go to the other side of his head to talk to him,” his friend, Winston Milling, testified.

Some friends think highly of him:

Penny Harrison, a pastor at Harris’ church, said she has known Harris and his wife, Leanna, for two years.

“I knew him to be at typical, loving father of a toddler,” Harrison said when the defense called her to the witness stand.

Milling, who had lunch with Harris on the day his son died, said everything appeared normal.

“He loved showing Cooper off to everybody. He liked picking him up, bringing him around. He was always happy. Cooper was always smiling,” Milling said.

James Alex Hall went to college with Harris and also had lunch with him on the day his son died. When asked how Harris was acting, he said nothing seemed out of place.

” I’d say normal as you can be,” he said. “Nothing stuck out, nothing was weird.”

He had movie plans that day

The day his son died, Harris was planning to see “22 Jump Street” with friends after work, according to Stoddard.

He swore at police officers at the scene:

Harris never called 911 and said “f*** you” to a police officer on the scene who asked him to get off his phone, the detective said.

Stoddard said that Harris told police he couldn’t reach anyone on his telephone, but phone records show he made three calls after he discovered his son’s body, and one between him and his employer lasted six minutes.

Defense believes he was forgetful:

Defense attorney Maddox Kilgore said it’s not unusual for people to forget children in cars.

“It’s easy to get distracted when you get behind the wheel. Everyone’s done it. His mind is already skipping ahead to the rest of the day,” Kilgore said.

“The results of that forgetting … were absolutely catastrophic,” Kilgore said. “But an accident doesn’t become a crime because the results were catastrophic.”

Couple had financial, intimacy issues:

Harris and his wife had $2,000 and $25,000 life insurance policies on their son, according to the investigator. He also said Harris’ wife “was complaining about (her husband’s) sporadic purchasing or overcharging credit cards.”

Harris’ wife told police the pair were having intimacy issues, according to Stoddard. Texts indicate that she knew he was cheating on her, he said.

His Internet activity raised eyebrows:

Harris accessed sites about “people who die,” which showed videos of suicides, executions, war, etc. He also visited a site on childless existence and did searches on surviving prison and on “age of consent for Georgia.”

“We’ve only scratched the surface,” Stoddard said of the searches.

His activities on day of son’s death questioned:

The day Cooper died, father and son stopped at Chick-fil-A for breakfast before he drove the 0.6 miles to work. The breakfast was not out of the ordinary for them.

“Justin stated that this happens two or three times a month. It’s daddy-son time, a special occasion to them,” Stoddard said.

When he arrived at work, surveillance footage shows Harris backed up his car, according to Stoddard. He said Harris didn’t have a backup camera and would have had to turn around or use his rearview and side mirrors. Investigators used a mannequin in the car seat and found the boy’s head would have been visible over the top of the car seat.

Harris told police he was supposed to drive his son to daycare June 18, but went to work without realizing Cooper was in a car seat in the back.

When Stoddard told him they were charging him, Harris allegedly responded by saying, “but there’s no malicious intent.”

His statements were ‘all about him:’

Harris became emotional when his wife arrived at the police station, according to the prosecution.

“It was all about him: ‘I can’t believe this is happening to me. Why am I being punished for this?’ It was all very one-sided,” Stoddard said. “He talked about losing his job … ‘What are we going to do? I’ll be charged with a felony.’”

Leanna Harris later asked her husband, “Did you say too much?” he said.

He’d had his latest job for two years:

Harris, 33, worked at Home Depot’s “.com business” for two years, the company said. That’s the job he worked for hours when Cooper was in the car.

Home Depot placed him on unpaid leave after the charges were filed in the June 18 incident. Stoddard said Harris would take Cooper to daycare in the mornings. The couple would split picking the boy up in the afternoons. When Leanna Harris went to pick up Cooper from daycare that day, they told her he was never dropped off. On her way out, she told witnesses: “Ross must have left him in the car… there’s no other explanation. Ross must have left him in the car,” Stoddard said.

He once lived in Alabama:

Harris worked at the University of Alabama as a parking monitor and later as a mail delivery clerk between 2001 and 2006, the university said.

After that, he worked as a police dispatcher in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, until 2009, according to Tuscaloosa Police spokesman Sgt. Brent Blankley. The department only confirmed his tenure, not details on his work history.

Three years later, Harris graduated from the University of Alabama with a bachelor’s degree in commerce and business administration. From there, he went to Home Depot.

A judge denied bond for Harris on Thursday, ruling that prosecutors have enough evidence to move forward in their case.

HLN contributed to this report.

9 comments

  • liberalmkejudge

    this is not news, stop covering cnn’s bs “news”! how about covering the biggest issue right now instead of ignoring it! Central america is flushing their toilets of people into America and obama is letting them all in illegally!

  • Svetlana

    Members of childfree sites and forums have been saying FOR YEARS that leaving your child in a hot car is a crime! We hate bad, lazy parents and the “they’ve suffered enough” excuse. Of course this heartless monster in Georgia is beyond the pale, but in all cases it is at least neglect. “Forgetting” your child is abusive and by not investigating and prosecuting the so-called parents who do it, society allowed this couple to think that they could get away with it. Thank goodness these cops dug deeper.

    • liberalmkejudge

      no, it would not- even if it happened in this state no. maybe your ignorant butt should wake up to the fact that the liberal media is feeding you these non-news sap stories so you dont realize whats really going on. drudgereport

      • Svetlana

        The Drudge Report is not news – it’s propaganda and half-truths. The year 2000 called, and it wants the term “liberal media” back.

      • liberalmkejudge

        so ignorant its sad. 44 kids died of heat stroke after being left in cars last year in the us. this certainly isnt national newsworthy. and drudge report is the furthest site from propaganda- it delivers news from the left, right and anywhere in between from any news source. As long as its actual news- not the agenda of one slanted station. where do you go for news?

      • Saintsfan1

        Liberalmkejudge, you are a jerk! How the hell is this a sap story! If you don’t want to read then don’t but shut the hell up and let the rest of weigh in on this story. Another innocent child baked to death in a car and people feel the parents did it on purpose. If you don’t care, then don’t but leave us alone.

  • Pbjelly

    I just don’t understand how someone forgets their child in the car. When I take my kids anywhere it’s like moving. When you have small children there are items you have to take with you such as diapers, toys, snacks, etc. Who has breakfast with their child after leaving the home, looks across a table and eats with him then forgets he has him? I just don’t believe it. Even if he had forgotten about him that’s still neglect. Accidents happen everyday but this guy’s behavior, web searches and so forth is just too suspicious. This seems to be something that happens a lot these days. Maybe that’s what made this guy think he could get away with it. It’s just so awful! Poor little Cooper. I watched some of the case on HLN and this guy just sat so stoic. I would think anyone who did such a thing by accident would be falling apart. I would rather something happen to me than my babies. There is so much violence against children these days it’s heartbreaking. It’s a coward who hurts anyone especially someone weaker than himself.

    Liberalmkejudge the reason this case has drawn so much attention is that there is reason and evidence to believe that this was deliberately done by the parents and not an accident. It should most definitely be in the news. If for no other reason than to prove to people that if you try to get away with something like this you will be caught.

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