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National
Focus shifts to mother of toddler in hot car death
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Focus shifts to mother of toddler in hot car death

Focus shifts to mother of toddler in hot car death
Photo Credit: Kelly J. Huff / Pool / Marietta Daily Journal / AP
Leanna Harris, wife of Justin Ross Harris, the father of a toddler who died after police say he was left in a hot car for about seven hours, looks on during her husband's bond hearing in Cobb County Magistrate Court on July 3, 2014, in Marietta, Ga. Harris, 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. At that same hearing, a judge refused to grant bond for Harris, meaning he will remain in jail.

Focus shifts to mother of toddler in hot car death

Leanna Harris’ husband, prosecutors alleged Thursday, had two sides: Churchgoing family man and another, darker persona, one that compelled Ross Harris to knowingly leave their 22-month-old son to die, locked inside a sweltering SUV.

Based on her own, sometimes confounding words, along with evidence disclosed at her spouse’s probable cause hearing Thursday, many are wondering whether there’s another side to Leanna Harris.

>> RELATED: Prosecutors: Father was sexting while child sat in hot car

The 30-year-old dietitian, who two years ago moved to Georgia from Tuscaloosa, Ala., has not been charged with any crime. But police have disclosed that, like her husband, she had researched children dying in hot vehicles prior to her son Cooper’s death, telling officers it was her “worst fear.” On average, 38 kids die each year after being trapped inside automobiles, according to KidsAndCars.org.

Investigators described her behavior the day of her son Cooper’s death as odd, if not suspicious.

When informed by workers at her son’s day care facility that Cooper had never been dropped off, she calmly responded, “Ross must have left him in the car. There’s no other explanation,” according to Cobb County Police Det. Phil Stoddard’s testimony Thursday.

Then, when reunited with her husband at police headquarters after he had been charged with murder, Leanna Harris asked him, “Did you say too much?” according to Stoddard.

“There isn’t enough to make her a co-conspirator … yet,” said criminal defense lawyer Esther Panitch.

>> RELATED: Photos: Dad accused in son’s hot car death appears in court

Whatever Leanna Harris’ role winds up being in this case — witness, defendant or supportive wife — prosecutors and the public are taking note of her public actions. What they’ve seen so far is stoicism that seems at odds with what has become a public tragedy.

She has expressed little emotion throughout. At Thursday’s hearing, she stared blankly ahead, chewing gum as prosecutors delivered one bombshell after another.

When she called home June 18 with the grim news of Cooper’s death, her mother could be overheard on the phone: “Why aren’t you crying? Why aren’t you reacting?”

Her response, according to Stoddard: “I must be in shock.”

Then there was her eulogy at Cooper’s funeral last Saturday in Tuscaloosa. To those who don’t know her, Leanna Harris’ comment that she wouldn’t bring her son back, even if she could, seemed suspicious.

>> RELATED: Police: Father who left child in hot car charged with murder

“He’s in the most peaceful, wonderful place there is,” Leanna Harris said.

But the 250 or so mourners who gathered at University Church of Christ gave her two rounds of applause, and Harris’ statement is not unusual among the deeply religious who believe the afterlife is God’s greatest gift.

Still, it’s clear, according to veteran legal observers, that police are looking at Leanna Harris’ potential culpability in her son’s death. On Thursday, Cobb County District Attorney Vic Reynolds said the investigation continues and “much work remains,” though he offered no details on where the probe may be headed.

“Knowledge of a crime isn’t prosecutable. A cover-up is,” Panitch said.

But if, as many increasingly believe, her husband ends up facing more significant murder charges, prosecutors may seek to use Leanna Harris as a witness. In Georgia, the spousal privilege shielding a wife from testifying against her husband, and vice-versa, doesn’t apply in cases of domestic violence or death of a child.

>> RELATED: 'I’ve killed our child,' dad screams over tiny body

“She needs to make a deal before the state finds more evidence against her,” Panitch said.

So far, Leanna Harris has remained loyal to her husband of seven years. At Cooper’s funeral, she said she holds no anger toward her husband.

“Ross is and was a wonderful father,” she said. As Ross Harris listened from jail on speaker phone, his wife told him, “I love you and I’m doing this for you.”

It’s unclear whether Leanna Harris knew then of her spouse’s “sexting” habits, first disclosed publicly during Thursday’s hearing. Friends and family shielded her from reporters as she left the courtroom and insist she’s a woman of strong faith who treasured her role as wife and mother. Ross Harris’ half-brother, Randy Michael Baygents, a police officer for nearly two decades, said Thursday had Ross Harris been released on bond he would have returned home.

“What you saw here is what is truly in her,” the Harris’ pastor, David Eldridge, said at Cooper’s funeral. “There is an example here for all of us on how to deal with things.”

>> Read more trending stories

Her eulogy was part memorial, part confessional.

“Some of you might wonder how I’m standing here today and I ask myself the same question,” Leanna Harris said. “I should be crumpled into a pile of tears and snot on the ground. (The Lord) is standing behind me, holding me up.”

She spoke of her difficulties getting pregnant and her awkward teen years.

“Junior high and senior high — they weren’t the happiest times (for me),” she said, listing heartbreaks her son would be spared. “He won’t have to suffer through the death of his (grandparents). He won’t have to suffer through the death of me and Ross.”

In his closing prayer, Eldridge said, “I’m not sure there’s a better testimony to who You are or what You do than Leanna.”

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  • On every Thanksgiving, it’s always nice to take some time and think about what you and your family are thankful for in 2017 – but at the same time, we may as well try to figure how Turkey Day is playing in political circles as well. In terms of political news, reporters on Capitol Hill and Washington, D.C. are currently going through an almost never-ending avalanche of stories, erupting daily (or even hourly) in what seems to be a high rate of speed in this new social media atmosphere. Let’s take a look at a few things on this Thanksgiving 2017: 1. Roy Moore – Roy Moore might be thankful for a lot right now, mainly a number of men in high profile positions in the Congress and the news media who have been ensnared in the recent swarm of news about sex. The latest person to hit the news – and take the focus off of Moore – is Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), who had a nude photo of himself leaked on to social media by a woman he was once in a relationship with, which some say might be ‘revenge porn.’ No matter what the details might be of how this occurred, the Barton story is a reminder of the perfect piece of advice that my father gave as he dropped me off at the U.S. Capitol on my first day of work in 1980, when he told me that ‘They call it the House of Representatives for a reason” – members of Congress are no different from our neighbors and friends. Some are good. Some are bad. Some make bad choices along the way. Roy Moore is thankful for Al Franken, John Conyers, Joe Barton, Charlie Rose, and many others. Their stories keep Moore out of the headlines. So the count for today if I'm not mistaken is two more accusers against Al Franken, one more against John Conyers and a picture of Joe Barton's genitalia splashed across the Internet — Ben Jacobs (@Bencjacobs) November 23, 2017 2. President Donald Trump. – Mr. Trump may be most thankful for political opponents like Hillary Clinton, who continues to be a Trump punching bag on Twitter. While many Inside the Beltway cringe at “Crooked Hillary” tweets, those missives continue to delight the President’s legions of fans, as it helps to keep the 2016 Democratic Presidential nominee in the news. (While Mr. Trump is probably also thankful for sports figures like Lavar Ball, Steph Curry, Richard Sherman, and others, I’ll stick to the political arena.) Over the last year, this President has proven himself to be very adept at verbally smacking people on Twitter – whether you think it’s right or wrong for Mr. Trump to be doing that isn’t the point. The longer that President Trump can keep Hillary Clinton in the news, the better for him, and maybe the better for the Republican Party. Donald Trump is thankful that Hillary Clinton is still around. Crooked Hillary Clinton is the worst (and biggest) loser of all time. She just can’t stop, which is so good for the Republican Party. Hillary, get on with your life and give it another try in three years! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 18, 2017 3. Tax lawyers and accountants. – Yes, Republicans say their tax reform plan will make the tax code simpler to deal with, and for some individuals, it would be easier to file your taxes under the plans envisioned in the House and Senate. But before you think that it’s going to change everything, a simple review of Congressional tax plans shows there will be plenty of work for people who need to explain the intricacies of the tax code, like tax lawyers and accountants. You don’t have to go very far into the GOP bills to feel confused about what’s being changed. Tax lawyers and accountants are thankful for the GOP tax reform bill. There will still be plenty of business for them, even if that bill becomes law. 4. Federal workers. 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Back in April, Mr. Trump wanted to cut over a billion from the Coast Guard budget. That didn’t make it through the Congress. Pres Trump to reporters 'Admin. Dept. heads will work next on spending cuts, welfare reform ('very shortly aftr taxes') & infrastructure' — AWPS NEWS llc (@AWPSNews) November 20, 2017 5. Politics at Thanksgiving. A year ago, the recent election of Donald Trump was a prime topic for many families, as a lot of Democratic voters were struggling to come to terms with President Trump’s election. Fast forward to Thanksgiving 2017, and it’s possible that a lot of those same people are still somewhat aggravated about the way things have gone in political circles after Mr. Trump’s first 10 months in office. And that leads me to believe that some of you will have a few things to say at the dinner table about President Trump, good and bad. Some will be saying “thanks” for the President – others, not so much. But it isn’t hard to argue over whether you should talk about politics at the table, eh? If you’re a republican having thanksgiving dinner with your democrat family, as you go around the table saying what you’re thankful for, I highly encourage you to say “the electoral college.” — Lord Single Malt (@Singlemaltfiend) November 22, 2017 My advice: Don't print anything out. Don't bring a chart to dinner. At Thanksgiving tell weird stories about when you were a kid to the kids and funny stories about loved ones no longer with us. Politics aren't that important. — Jonah Goldberg (@JonahNRO) November 23, 2017
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