MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) — A Georgia man who police say intentionally killed his toddler son by leaving the boy inside a hot SUV was exchanging nude photos with women the day his son died and had looked at websites that advocated against having children, a detective testified Thursday.
Cobb County Police Detective Phil Stoddard testified at a hearing that evidence showed Justin Ross Harris was practically leading a double life and should not be granted bond. Stoddard described the evidence police have suggesting Harris, who is charged with murder, killed his 22-month-old son Cooper intentionally.
Harris and his wife had two life insurance policies for the toddler, one for $2,000 and one for $25,000. Furthermore, Harris’ wife had become unhappy with her husband’s spending habits, Stoddard said.
Harris has told police he was supposed to drive his son to day care the morning of June 18 but drove to work without realizing that his son was strapped into a car seat in the back.
Harris was exchanging nude photos with several women, including teenagers, even on the day his son died when he was at work, Stoddard said. In the weeks before the boy’s death, the man also had looked at a website that advocated against having children and had done an Internet search for “how to survive in prison,” the detective said.
“I think the evidence now is showing intent,” Stoddard said. He said Harris should remain in jail because he is a flight risk: There is evidence he was leading a double life, he has family in Alabama, and the former 911 dispatcher has law enforcement experience.
However, a defense attorney says Harris had no intention of leaving his toddler son inside a hot SUV for hours, killing the boy.
Attorney Maddox Kilgore says his client had lunch with two friends the day the boy died and then came back to his SUV to put a couple of light bulbs he had purchased inside the vehicle.
Kilgore says Harris wouldn’t have led his friends right up to the car if he had left the boy inside intentionally. Kilgore also said Harris had texted his wife later that afternoon, asking when she was going to pick up their son.
Harris is a native of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and moved to Georgia in 2012 to work for Home Depot.
The detective said after the boy died, Harris showed no emotion while being interviewed by investigators. At one point after Harris pulled over with the dead child in a strip mall parking lot, an officer told Harris to get off his cellphone, Stoddard said. Harris twice refused, using profanity, and was then arrested.
Scores of reporters and some curious members of the public were at the hearing just outside Atlanta, where police and prosecutors laid out the most detailed account yet of their case against Harris. Some of Harris’ supporters also were in the courtroom.
Stoddard also described Harris’ account of what happened that morning. Harris portrayed himself to investigators as a doting father who always kissed his son when he strapped him into the car seat because “he wanted Cooper to know his daddy loves him,” the detective said.
Harris told police he had watched cartoons in bed with the boy, then had breakfast with him at a Chick-fil-A restaurant. Harris said he forgot to drop the boy off at day care, instead driving straight to work.
Harris has said he did not realize the boy was still in the car until he left work. A defense witness testified that Harris appeared to be extremely upset after pulling into the parking lot, trying to do CPR on his son.
“He was saying, ‘Oh my God, oh my God, my son is dead, oh my god,’” witness Leonard Madden said.
Alex Hall, a friend of Harris since their sophomore year of college and a co-worker at Home Depot, said Harris talked about how much he loved his son all the time. He said he and Harris had gone to lunch the day the boy died and had planned to go to the movies after work that day.
“Nothing stuck out,” he said. “Nothing was weird.”