Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The case against Ross Harris

From left: Cooper Harris (victim) and his father Ross Harris

From left: Cooper Harris (victim) and his father Justin Ross Harris

Evidence in the case against a Georgia father in the death of his 22-month-old son, left to die in a hot car last month, begins to portray a man, who didn’t want to be a father anymore. Justin Ross Harris is charged with the murder his son. Soon investigators may be examining any role Cooper’s mother may have had in his death.

Cooper Harris, 22 months old, died of hyperthermia in the Marietta, Georgia, metro area on June 18, 2014, in his father’s SUV. According to the father, Justin Ross Harris, 33, he accidentally went to work with Cooper in the car, forgot to drop him off at daycare, went to his job at Home Depot, and accidentally left the boy in the hot car all day. At lunch, Harris went to put something in the car, but claims he didn’t notice the child. At 4 p.m. Harris started the drive home and on the way realized that Cooper had been in the car the whole day. The temperature had been in the low 90s all day.

By 4:24 Harris had pulled over, taken an stiff, unresponsive Cooper out of his child seat, his face scratched, police think, from his struggle to get out of the restraints. Harris become frantic, his screams of “What have I done?” and “I’ve killed our child,” were heard through the parking lot by all while a Good Samaritan gave CPR to Cooper. Someone –not Harris– called 911 and responders were at the scene in seconds. An officer told Harris to get off his phone, he reported said, “F*** you“,”  and was handcuffed by the cop. By 5 p.m., Cooper was pronounced dead. The smell from the inside of the SUV confirmed the diagnosis.

The Harris family in happier times.

The Harris family in happier times.

Harris told police that he had made a grave mistake, and was taken into custody for questioning. Police executed a warrant on his office and by 10 p.m., Harris was under arrest, charged with murder and first-degree cruelty to children. The judge found that police investigators had probable cause to arrest Harris and explained his reasoning. According to Cobb County Chief Magistrate Frank Cox, “For him [Harris] to enter the car … when the child had been dead and rigor mortis had set in, and the testimony is the stench in the car was overwhelming at that point in time, that he — in spite of that — got in the car and drove it for some distance before he took any action to check on the welfare of his child, I find there is probable cause for the two charges contained in the warrant.”

Initially, public support swung in favor of Harris, who goes by his middle name, Ross. His wife Leanna Harris has also been supportive, but police insisted there is more to the case, and that they have only scratched the surface.

Justin Ross Harris

Justin Ross Harris

As more information leaks out, it’s looking like Harris will have a serious courtroom battle ahead of him.

  • The Harrises had two insurance policies on Cooper, one for $2,ooo and the other for $25,000.
  • Leanna Harris had expressed unhappiness with Ross’ spending.
  • According to investigators, who have begun to review the searches from Harris’ computers, both parents looked up how hot a car had to be to kill a child.
  • Five days before Cooper’s death Ross twice viewed a crude video about the dangers of leaving a child in a hot car.
  • Both parents said that Ross was fearful of accidentally leaving Cooper in a hot car, and according to police, ”stated that he recently researched, through the Internet, child deaths inside vehicles and what temperature it needs to be for that to occur,” police have said, adding that Harris told investigators “he was fearful that this could happen.”
Cooper Harris, victim

Cooper Harris, victim

  • Though no charges have been made against Leanna Harris, when she arrived at daycare to find that Cooper had never been dropped off, she reportedly said, ”Ross must have left him in the car.”
  • During their police interview, a detective testified that Leanna asked Ross what he had told police.
  • When his wife, Leanna, arrived at the police interview she asked Harris, “Did you say too much?
  • Harris later told investigators that he hadn’t reached anyone on his phone during the scene at the parking lot, but they say his cell phone records show the Harris made three calls, one was to his employer that lasted six minutes.
  • Before Cooper’s death, police testified that Ross Harris read four articles from a subreddit of Reddit.com called “Child Free.”
  • At his hearing, police testified that while Cooper was dying in the hot car, Harris was sexting six different women, one of them only 17, sending them photos of his erect penis and receiving photos of breasts.

Ross Harris pleaded not guilty. He has been denied bail, and remains in the Cobb County jail. Soon the inquiry will no doubt turn to Cooper’s mother.

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