Justin Ross Harris made his first court appearance this afternoon in Atlanta, and the details to come out of that hearing are both startling and disturbing. Harris is accused of leaving his 22-month-old son, Cooper, strapped into a car seat in the rear of his vehicle for seven straight hours in the hot sun. The boy died an agonizing death, although Harris claims the entire thing was a tragic accident -- that he had simply not realized the child was back there. Police in Cobb County say this is nonsense, particularly given that Harris had eaten breakfast with his little boy just a few minutes before he drove to work and left the child to literally bake to death.
That information was released to the public via the arrest warrant issued for Harris, along with the allegation by investigators that Harris had done internet research in the time leading up to Cooper's death on how long it would take an animal to die in a hot car. But that revelation was nothing compared to what came out today. According to prosecutors and testimony heard today, a pitch-black picture may be emerging of both Justin Ross Harris and Cooper's mother, Leanna Harris.
First of all, one detective testified that Harris was exchanging sexually graphic text messages in the hours that Cooper Harris was sitting helpless in the back of his father's blazing hot car. Multiple women were reportedly the recipients of these texts, one of whom is only 17 years old. The texts included pictures and evidence that there had been personal meetings. Prosecutors say this shows that Justin Ross Harris longed for a single, childless life. To prove this further, the state claims Harris visited a Reddit forum for those who advocate a life without children.
Investigators claim Harris also watched a YouTube video in which a veterinarian demonstrates how a car with its windows rolled up in the summer can reach temperatures of 117 degrees -- he reportedly watched it twice -- and researched online "how to survive in prison."
Where Harris's wife Leanna comes into the picture is in both her actions before her son's death and her reaction in the wake of it. The prosecution claims that both the Harrises were in dire financial straits and they had taken out a life insurance policy on 22-month-old Cooper. It also alleges that Leanna and Justin Ross Harris's immediate responses to what had happened were cause for suspicion and that Cooper's body wasn't completely free of trauma.
From ABC News:
Leanna Harris asked her husband, "Did you say too much?" during police questioning, (Cobb County Police Detective Phil) Stoddard added.
The detective also raised some points about the wife's behavior in his testimony. He said that employees at the day care center said that when she went to pick up her son and was told her husband hadn't drop off Cooper that morning, she said moments later, "Ross must have left him in the car."
The officer also said that he clearly heard a phone call between Leanna Harris and her mother in which Cooper's grandmother was distraught over the news of the boy's death and asked her daughter, "Why aren't you crying." Leanna Harris replied, "I must be in shock," Stoddard said.
There were also marks on Cooper's face and abrasions on the back of his head, the officer said.
Police noticed a "foul stench or odor" coming from the vehicle an hour and a half after Cooper was removed, Stoddard said, suggesting Harris would have also realized the smell.
"It smelled like decomposition, or death," Stoddard said.
Despite these new revelations, there still has to be the presumption of innocence here, but as I said once before, if it's ultimately proven that Justin Ross Harris -- or the Harrises together -- purposely murdered this little boy, there won't be a punishment agonizing enough to truly be called justice.