While the case of a little boy left to die in a hot car has gotten "curiouser and curiouser" over the last two weeks, a very serious question now needs to be asked about how the case is progressing and the red meat it's providing for some in the media.
Last week it was revealed via a warrant released by the Cobb County Police Department that Justin Ross Harris had eaten breakfast with his two-year-old son, Cooper, just a few minutes before supposedly forgetting about the boy for seven hours. If true, this would probably shoot major holes in Harris's claim that he had no idea his child was in the back of the vehicle he was driving when he went into work on June 18th, leaving the boy to literally bake to death in the hot sun. Harris also reportedly returned to the vehicle at lunch and failed to notice his child and he researched online how long it would take an animal to die in a hot car as well as how long it would take a child to die that way. Potentially damning revelations, certainly.
Now newly released police warrants are showing that Cooper Harris's mother, Leanna, also researched child deaths inside hot vehicles in the time leading up to her own son's death. She apparently admitted as much under questioning by investigators. Again, potentially damning information but not undoubtedly damning. Leanna Harris has stood by her husband as police and Cobb County prosecutors attempt to gather evidence in the murder case against him. When asked whether she was angry with him, her answer was decisive: "Absolutely not. It has never crossed my mind. Ross is and was and will be, if we have more children, a wonderful father. Ross is a wonderful daddy and leader for our household. Cooper meant the world to him."
All of this could add up to a horrifying conspiracy to kill a little boy or an indefensible example of parental negligence -- or it could add up to absolutely nothing. The question this case presents, though, is one of the media's involvement in the progress of a criminal investigation. The warrants released by Cobb County are a matter of public record, so there's nothing to stop anyone from reporting on them. They admittedly contain tantalizing information, the kind of thing no editorial department in the world would simply ignore.
But it's difficult to impress upon people the need to withhold judgment until all the facts are in when startling details of the case against Justin Ross Harris trickle out every few days. Granted, this isn't the same as, say, Richard Jewell, who was tried by media in the court of public opinion without ever having been charged. Investigators and prosecutors obviously believe Harris is guilty of murder here or they wouldn't have filed those charges against him. At this point any media trial affects only people's views of a man authorities already have in custody and assume is a cold-blooded killer.
It's still tough to think, however, that what we're seeing right now is exactly the kind of thing that's going to keep people like Nancy Grace baring their teeth for months. Justin Ross Harris killed his son and should almost certainly face the full force of the justice system because of it; that shouldn't even be up for discussion. The variable in the equation, then, is his intent: whether he allowed his little boy to die a prolonged, agonizing death because that's what he wanted or simply because he was negligent and made a terrible mistake. (And contrary to the opinions of some, even if it was a tragic accident it doesn't mean he shouldn't be held legally responsible.) Was little Cooper Harris's mother involved, too? That's something else we don't know.
If ever there was a murder case where it's best to wait until all the facts are in, rather than blindly accepting the allegations as they emerge and bending them to fit our particular biases, this is it.