MARIETTA, Ga. — 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 he said suggests 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.
At that same hearing, a judge refused to grant bond for Harris, meaning he will remain in jail.
Harris, 33, 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 the child was strapped into a car seat in the back.
Harris was exchanging nude photos with several women, including at least one teenager, even on the day his son died when he was at work, Stoddard said.
However, defense attorney Maddox Kilgore said that evidence had no bearing on Harris’ intent.
“I think the real purpose of all that is to publicly shame him,” Kilgore said.
Kilgore also said Harris and his family will have to deal with what he called a catastrophic accident for the rest of their lives. Harris, who was stoic through most of the hearing, began crying at that point.
In the weeks before the boy’s death, Harris 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.
“An accident doesn’t become a crime because the results were catastrophic,” Kilgore said, arguing there wasn’t sufficient evidence to deny his client bond.
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, as was his wife.
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, another co-worker and college friend, Winston Milling, 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,” Hall said. “Nothing was weird.”
The two men later dropped Harris off at his car so he could put a couple of light bulbs he had purchased inside.
Kilgore, the defense attorney, said that showed Harris did not mean to leave the boy there.
“If that were the case, why in the world would he bring his colleagues right up to the car?” he asked.
Kilgore also said Harris had sent his wife a text that afternoon asking, “When are you going to get my buddy?”