Tuesday, June 24, 2014

What have I done?

"I think it is impossible for this to have been intentional." stated witness Leonard Madden.

On June 18 2014, Cooper Harris, 22 months old, was found dead in his father's car.  Justin Ross Harris, 33, has been charged with first degree cruelty to a child and felony murder and is being held without bond in Cobb County GA.  The firestorm of public outcry had then begun to sweep across social media and blogs.

There was a large part of the public who felt that the police had gone too far in charging a distraught father with murder when he had only been a part of very tragic circumstances.  It is possible and has happened before for a parent to accidentally leave their child strapped in a car seat. A petition began on change.org asking that the murder charges against Harris be dropped and on YouCaring.com, more than $18,000 had been raised towards his legal fees.  New evidence has been emerging that could show that thousands of people jumped on the Harris bandwagon far too soon.

Harris is a graduate of Central High School in Tuscaloosa AL and both graduated from the University of Alabama and was employed by the university.  He received a Bachelor's degree in Information Management Systems, is currently employed as a web designer for Home Depot and lives in Marietta GA with his wife.  According to the initial reports, Harris left for work that morning and was supposed to drop Cooper off at his daycare between 8:30 and 9 am.  Evidently, Harris forgot to drop his son off before going into the corporate office where he worked.  He left for the day and drove approximately two miles towards home before pulling his Hyundai Tuscon into a busy Ackers Mill Rd shopping plaza.  It was there that he was witnessed pulling Cooper from his car seat and screaming "What have I done?" numerous times.

"I've been in law enforcement for 34 years.  What I know about this case shocks my conscious as a police officer, a father and a grandfather." stated Cobb County Police Sgt Dana Pierce.

The witnesses report differing perceptions of Harris's behavior after he removed his son from the car.  Some definitely believe that he was a distraught father who just discovered the accidental death of his son while others felt that he seemed to be putting on a dramatic show for the gathering crowd.  It has been reported that Harris at some point did not want to see what the medical team was doing for his son and he also had to be placed in the back of a police car at the scene.

Police have also have conducted a search of The office that he worked at but have not revealed if they have seized anything that could be related to the case.  They may be trying to establish proof that Harris did not leave the office at any time during the day or if there may be information available on on-site cameras, if they exist at that building.  All that has been said currently is that they do not completely believe his version of the events and his statement that he did not know at any point during the day, that Cooper had been left in his car.

Many questions have arisen in the public forums so far, first is that many believe that it was an unfortunate accident.  Others state that it is not possible for a parent to forget that they have left their child strapped in a car seat in the car.  It is entirely possible for a loving and caring parent to "forget" that they have left a child in the car.  David Diamond, a professor of molecular physiology at the University of South Florida and a consultant at a Tampa veteran's hospital has researched the cause and effect of memory loss.  His research involves how stress, emotions and memory can adversely affect someone's performance of everyday routines.  His research shows how someone could leave their child in a car accidentally and not know that they had done it or even be able to find the point in their morning routine where they had gone wrong.  Many times cases like this can be attributed to a change of the person's routine, such as having a different parent dropping the child off for day care instead of the one who normally does.

Some of the blame for these accidents happening has also been placed on the new standard of requiring a child to be in the back seat, out of view and with infants, requiring that the child face away from the parent.  In that position, it is difficult for a driver to see if the car seat is empty or if the child is still there.  I can easily see how an infant could be overlooked even by a parent glancing into the rear view mirror but in the case of a child as old as Cooper, he would be very visible and most likely, active in the backseat during the morning drive.

Why didn't anyone see or hear him after he was left in the car?  When I first saw the news broadcasts, I wondered how a child left in a parking lot of a very busy store could manage to go unnoticed for hours.  He wasn't left in a parking lot in front of a store..... Harris worked in an office building and I can understand why it may be that no one noticed Conner.  If most of the people working there had the same hours as Harris did, the parking lot may not have had much foot traffic through it for most of the day.  Police have questioned whether Cooper had even been in the car for the 7 hours they were first led to believe.  I would think though that a child as old as 22 months would have made some kind of noise that others could have heard if they were walking by.

The question has also been raised as to whether Harris should be allowed to attend Cooper's funeral which is planned for Saturday.  The legal system in the US states that you are innocent until proven guilty and Harris has not been proven guilty yet.  His son's funeral is not something that can be given back to him if the charges against him are not proven to be true.  I do think that he should be allowed private time before the funeral to see his son but I don't believe that he should be allowed to intrude on the funeral ceremony and have the possibility of causing a scene in public.  At this point though, there has been no request from Harris to attend Cooper's funeral, which could mean several things.  He may not wish to attend because he is "punishing" himself or that he feels he shouldn't attend.

There has been no public statements from his wife Leanna Harris either about Cooper's death or her husband's arrest.  The speculation is that she may know something about the circumstances surrounding her husband's claim to knowing nothing about Cooper being left in his car for the entire day.  She would also know if there had been problems with her husband, their marriage or how her husband felt about Cooper.  The police will certainly investigate all possibilities and her lack of any public statement lends credit right now to belief of law enforcement that Harris may not be telling the whole truth.

The police are also waiting for the results of the autopsy to try and clarify the timeline of what may have happened that day as well as what killed Cooper.  It is still too early to know what really happened to Cooper.  It may be harsh to charge Harris as severely as the police have but they have that option when faced with the facts they have.  How would people feel if they had gone the opposite route and not charged Harris only to find out later that they evidence pointed to his guilt on such serious charges.  I am sure there would be many people upset that the police had let a "monster" walk free.  For the moment though, let the police do their job and in time, we should have a much clearer picture of what really did happen that day.




*** Update June 25 2014:

The police have a new warrant for Justin Harris and it reveals more information as to what the police believe happened during the day that Harris left his son Cooper to die.  The new warrant has down graded the charge of first degree cruelty to children to second degree which may mean that they have not found information to prove that he had intent.

It does reveal that Harris drove past his office in the morning to take Cooper into a Chick-fil-A restaurant for breakfast before work.  He then placed Cooper back in his car seat, which reports state, was in the middle of the backseat and facing rearward.  Harris then drove back less than a mile to his office and went in, leaving Cooper strapped in the car seat.  Police have also revealed that they have evidence that Harris returned to his car during his lunch break, opened the driver's side door, placed something inside the car and then returned to work in the corporate office.  Harris then left work at 4:16 pm with Cooper still in the car and later pulled into the shopping center to scream for help when he discovered his son in the car seat.

This differs significantly from the initial reports but it doesn't rule out the possibility of a stressed father rushing to work and forgetting his son in the car.  To me, it makes it a lot more difficult to forget Cooper was there.because he physically took his son in and out of a car seat for breakfast.  There has been no location released as to where the daycare was located that Cooper was supposed to be dropped off at.

As more details are released about Harris and the events of the morning, it becomes more difficult to believe the claim that he had just forgot his son.


*** Update June 26 2014:

More details of what the police believe happened on the day that Harris left his son Cooper in the car have emerged.  The autopsy report has been released and Cooper did indeed die of hyperthermia, intense heat exhaustion and it also states that the manner of death was homicide.  It reveals also that Harris and Cooper ate breakfast at the Vinings Chick-fil-A that morning.  He then placed Cooper back in his car seat to drive approximately one mile to work.  He did not stop along the way to leave Cooper at the day care that is located at the Home Depot Corporate office which is about two miles from the "Treehouse" Home Depot office where he was working.

Fox 5 news received information from a law enforcement source stating that police had seized Harris's work computer and they had found evidence that Cooper's death may have been premeditated.  There has been no confirmation as to when the search of his computer was done and what specifically police may have found to lead to the belief that it had been planned.

"The chain of events that occurred in this case does not point towards simple negligence and evidence will be presented to support this allegation," stated Chief of Police John R Houser.

Police are still interviewing eyewitnesses that were in the shopping plaza when Harris pulled in.  Witness Edward Cockerham, 49, stated that Harris initially told people standing by that Cooper had just started choking in the car before he had drove in.  He went to state that he felt that Harris was acting or over reacting to the situation.  Another witness, bartender Artyika Eastland, 25, had just gone out to her car to charge her phone when she saw Harris drive in and frantically jump out.  She went on to say that he put Cooper on the ground and was doing CPR on him but when another person approached to assist, he stood up and did not participate anymore.  Ms Eastland said that she felt there was something else wrong the baby then because his color was grey/blue and he didn't lie flat on the ground but instead, he had his legs in the air.

By 4:58 pm, Cooper had been pronounced dead at the scene and Harris was handcuffed and sitting in a police car.  Ms Eastland stated that she could see Harris talking with a detective calmly, then burst into tears, alternating it through the interview.  She also stated that she observed Harris looking around to observe the scene but he did was more interested in who the police were talking to than what was happening with his son.  By 5 pm, Harris was driven away from the scene by police and he had stopped cooperating with them.

While there has a national debate as to whether parents who have accidentally left a child in a car to die should be charged, it is beginning to look as though the police have gotten their charges correct in the case of Harris.

Cooper will be buried Saturday in a private service in Tuscaloosa AL.



*** Update June 29 2014:

Saturday morning in Tuscaloosa AL, Cooper Harris was laid to rest in a private funeral that Justin Harris did not attend.  He did listen to the service by phone and told the 200 who did attend by speaker phone, "Thank you for everything,  I'm sorry that I can't be there."

His wife Leanna stated during the service that "Ross is, was and will be a great daddy."  She added that she is not angry with him over her son's death.  Those attending the funeral gave Harris a standing ovation after he spoke and many spoke well of him as a person.  The funeral and burial did have a heavy police presence due to the national media attention.

Police state that they did not bar Harris from attending the services.  They state that he had not made an official request to attend but his lawyer stated that he had been informed by the police that Harris would not be allowed attend regardless of the reasons.  Cooper's family had made a request for a flash drive that contained pictures of Cooper to show at the funeral but that was denied because police stated that they needed to protect the integrity of the evidence.

The search for evidence and answers continues though.  Police had released information about the warrants they have already served and they include a search of Harris's home, cellphone, car and computer.  He had told police that he had recently done computer searches for how long it took an animal and a person to die in a hot car because he was concerned that it may happen to him.  It is now reported that police will release information about 11 other warrants that had been applied for and it may shed even more light as what their theory is.

According to the official warrants:

On 06/18/14 at 1624 hrs Pct 3 officers responded to 2955 Akers Mill Rd, Atlanta GA regarding a person down call. When the officers arrived on scene they discovered that Cooper Harris 08-02-12 was deceased. The CAP unit was contacted and responded to the scene regarding a homicide investigation. Justin Harris, the deceased subject's father was witnessed pulling into the parking lot of Uncle Maddio's Pizza, 2955 Akers Mill Rd in a 2011 Hyundai Tucson, GA tag.... The vehicle came to a sudden stop. Justin quickly exited the vehicle, opened the driver side passenger door and pulled his child, Cooper Harris out of the vehicle. Justin was witnessed yelling "Oh my god what have I done". He then began doing CPR on the child. When someone came to assist Justin he stopped providing medical attention to the child and started making calls on his cell phone. EMS responded to the scene. It was obvious that the child was deceased. Justin stated that he went to work that morning and forgot to drop the child off at day care. Justin left his residence, took the child to Chic-fil-A in Vinings and then went to work. The child was left in the vehicle since approximately 0930 hrs this morning until he was discovered by Justin at around 1620 hrs when he was driving to meet up with some friends. The temperature was in the 90's for most of the day. During an interview with Justin, He stated that he recently researched, through the internet, child deaths inside vehicles and what temperature it needs to be for that to occur. Justin stated that he was fearful that this could happen

The warrant for his home computer was for a laptop, computer towers, Google chrome cast internet searcher and other electronic devices.  The warrant for his home was for papers, writings, documents, photographs, evidence of child neglect, child abuse and photograph the residence.  The warrant for his cellphone was yo allow the police to  physically examine, document, have the storage devices forensically imaged or copied (if necessary), and later examined for evidence of these crimes.  The warrant for the Harris home was for trace evidence including but not limited to latent impressions, hairs, fibers, fingerprints, blood, or DNA, a child car seat, cell phones, photograph the vehicle, take measurements of the vehicle, computers, electronic communication devices, any electronic data storage devices located inside the vehicle, any paperwork and or writings related to the crime of Homicide and Cruelty to Children.

The family has not spoken publicly and had requested that they be left alone to deal with the unfolding events privately.  They had been assisted with the funeral costs by a Home Depot fund that gave them a ten thousand dollar grant.

Not surprisingly, the online petition site that was trying to get the charges dropped against Harris........ has been shut down.  Harris is next expected to be seen at his probable cause hearing on July 3 2014



*** Update July 3 2014:

Explosive testimony has emerged at the probable cause hearing for Harris today.  It has been revealed that:

·         *The turn he had to make to drop Cooper off at the Little Apron Day Care was about 30 seconds from the Chick-fil-A that they had just eaten breakfast at.
·         *Harris had been “sexting” with six women throughout the day while he was at work and Cooper was left in the car.  Police have spoken to at least two of the women involved and they have confirmed that he had sent pictures to them of his erect penis to them and they had sent pictures of their exposed breasts to him.  At least one of the women was under 18 years of age.
·        * Evidence has been given that Harris accessed postings that included living child-free, videos of people dying, how to survive in prison, effects of leaving a child or pet in a hot car and a video on how to prevent leaving a child in a hot car.
·         Harris went out to lunch with co workers and afterwards, had one drop him off at his car so that he could place the light bulbs he had purchased in the front seat.
·         *Testimony was given that Harris had previously cheated on his wife and she had knowledge of this, as well as evidence that he had met at least one woman he had chatted with months prior to that day.
·         *There was a $2,000 and $25,000 life insurance policies on Cooper Harris.
·        * It was reported that Cooper was too large for the car seat and his head would be very visible above the back of the seat.  This is important because Harris did not have a back up camera on his car, so when he backed into the space at work, he would have had to use the rear view mirror and should have seen Cooper.
·        * Harris was witnessed making a phone call immediately after someone else took over giving CPR to Cooper.  He told police that he had not reached anyone with the call but police state that the call lasted at least six minutes and it was to the day care to alert his wife of the situation.
·         *Harris had made plans with friends to see a movie that night for 5 pm and he was headed in that direction when he pulled into the plaza.
·         *Harris had evidently searched on-line what the age of consent was in GA.  It is reported that one of the women he was talking to that day was 16 years old.
·        * He showed no emotion when testimony was given about the condition of Cooper when he was removed from the car or when his “sexting” was revealed.  He was seen wiping his face with a tissue when a witness described the scene at the shopping plaza.
·         *Harris had not called 911 and when an officer observed him on the phone, she asked him to hang up.  At that point, Harris is described as refusing to, shouted “Fuck you” to the officer, had the phone taken away from him and was handcuffed.
·         *Harris had received a group email from the day care that day.
·         *Harris’s wife Leanna arrived at the day care to pick up Cooper and they informed her that Cooper had never been dropped off.  It is stated that she said “Ross must have left him in the car.”  The day care was reported to have tried to convince her that there could be many other reasons as to why Cooper had not been dropped off but she stuck to her statement about Harris.
·         *It is reported that Harris quickly got into his car after work and drove off in seconds without rolling down any windows.  Police stated that the car still had a very noticeable decomposition smell even after 1 ½ hours after he had pulled into the plaza.
·         *Harris is considered a flight risk because of his law enforcement experience as a dispatcher and that he has no family in the state except for his wife.

Harris has been denied bail and will be held until trial, where he could face the death penalty.

It is very difficult to listen to police testimony of Harris’s activities during the day his son died and believe that he is just a parent who accidentally forgot his child in the car.  I also wonder what type of office would allow employees to the time to exchange nude pictures and chat when they are being paid to work.  Perhaps the most telling...... Harris evidently had inquired with others as to how to get the insurance money within days of Cooper's death. It was also revealed that Harris was always the one who dropped Cooper off at day care, so this was not an interruption of his normal routine, something that can lead to children being accidentally left in cars.

So far, police have not charged his wife with any crimes, though she had also stated to police that she had made internet searches about children in hot cars, reportedly asked Harris what he had told police and if he had "told them too much" and did not seem to show much emotion in court to the revelations of her husband's "sexting" or the condition when he was removed from the car.


*** Update July 7 2014:

New information has been released about the additional warrants that had been served on Harris.  They include a DVD, an external hard drive, a 2 gigabyte memory card and a 32 GB thumb drive.  Police also want the medical records for both Harris and Cooper to establish if they had any medical conditions and what their health would have been at the time of Cooper's death.

It had been revealed that messages between the Harris's show that they may have had financial problems at the time.  It was also discovered that the Harris's had purchased a larger, forward facing car seat for Cooper six weeks prior to his death but switched back to the older car seat a couple of weeks before his death.  It was revealed that Cooper had been placed in the car seat and the straps had been set at the lowest setting for a small child.  Harris was fully aware of the specifications of the car seat when asked about it by police.

Harris may also face additional charges in relation to his "sexting" such as felony exploitation of a minor and misdemeanor sexual contact with a minor.  One of the women he had been chatting with and exchanging explicit pictures with was 16 years old at the time.  One source states that the Harris's phones show that they texted numerous times a day with each other, every day.  On the day of Cooper's death though, they did not talk to each other at all.

All of these things are fairly routine or innocent if taken individually.......... grouped together though, it seems to present a stomach churning conclusion that still has to be proven in court.



*** Update July 8 2014:

Police may well be looking more closely at Harris's wife Leanna as a possible accomplice.  While it is common for police to closely examine parents and relatives so that they can eliminate them if need be, there seems to be much for police to be concerned with.  Her demeanor while she was in court was more than odd.  She showed little emotion and was seen chewing gum and occasionally putting her head down.  It has been reported that even her mother in law questioned Leanna as to why she wasn't crying for Cooper.

The initial release of the funeral service had placed a positive spin on her feelings about Cooper and her husband.  What has since been released is more that jaw dropping.  it has been reported that she stated that she was happy that Cooper would miss some of the sadness in life like losing his grandparents and his parents.  She went on to say that she was glad that he would miss some of life's let downs such as his first heartbreak.

It was the part that came right before her claim that she wasn't angry with her husband that has heads spinning.........

"I miss him with all my heart.  Would I bring him back?  No.  To bring him back into this broken world would be selfish," she stated.

Those are not the words I would expect to hear from a mother who had loved this child and was looking forward to a life with him.


*** Update July 11 2014:

The toxicology reports show that Cooper was not drugged while he was dying in the hot car.  Sadly, this does not help prove that Harris deliberately meant for Cooper to die and not suffer.  Harris has reportedly been moved to the mental health wing of the prison.  This may be a move to protect him from the other inmates or it may also be one step towards building a case of mental defect as the reason behind Cooper's death.  Home Depot has reported that they have fired Harris from his job there yesterday.

It has been revealed as well that Harris had a twitter account and oddly...... his wife was not listed as someone he wanted to have access to his postings.  Police are still investigating what, if any part she may have had in Cooper's death.  Speculation has stated that she may be suffering from postpartum depression and that could have led to her agreeing with any plans Harris may have had.  It has also been reported that she has hired herself, her own defense attorney.  So far.......... she has not been charged with any crime but police are leaving no stone unturned in their investigation.

It has also been announced that those people who donated to Harris's defense fund through Paypal and used the YouCaring.com will be getting refunds of what they donated.  At least we will know that the money won't be going towards a cause many probably don't believe in anymore and it won't just be sitting in an account somewhere as well.


Update August 13 2014:

"Because I saw how he treasured our little boy for 22 months, I know without a doubt he would never knowingly allowed any harm to come to our son,." stated Leanna Harris.

The Cobb County District Attorney's office sent Leanna Harris a routine crime victim impact questionnaire recently and she has returned it after answering the questions it had.  Her attorney has used the fact that she received it as "proof" that she is considered a victim and not a suspect in Cooper's death but Cobb County stated that they send one to anyone who has been involved closely with a crime.  They are required by the Crime Victim's Bill of Rights to send one to all victims or next of kin as a standard procedure.

She stated that she has not been able to grieve properly and this has her living a tortured existence now.  She has moved from the couple's home in Georgia, back to Alabama.  She goes on to state that she has had to transfer her job as a dietitian there as well as losing a consulting job that she had held for four years.  She added that she has had to delay going back to work because of the media hounding her.

Leanna's public release of the information as well as her even answering the questionnaire may have looked like a chance to gain public sympathy but it may also be used to see where she stands in the case.  It doesn't seem to do much in shining a better light on her actions following Cooper's death even though she states that she is undergoing counseling for grief and depression, something she thinks she will need all of her life.  She still stays in regular contact with her husband through video conferencing, now that she is out of state.  I think it will take a lot more to convince the public that she had nothing to do with Cooper's death.



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