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National
Prosecutors: Father was sexting while child sat in hot car
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Prosecutors: Father was sexting while child sat in hot car

Prosecutors: Father was sexting while child sat in hot car
Photo Credit: Kelly J. Huff
A tear rolls down the cheek 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, as he sits during his bond hearing in Cobb County Magistrate Court, Thursday, July 3, 2014, in Marietta, Ga. (AP Photo/Marietta Daily Journal, Kelly J. Huff, Pool)

Prosecutors: Father was sexting while child sat in hot car

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A judge has denied bond for a Cobb County father charged with murdering his son.

Ross Harris is charged with leaving his son, 22-month-old Cooper, in a hot SUV for more than seven hours.

The judge ruled that there is enough evidence against Harris for the criminal case to continue and mentioned a potential sentence of the death penalty.

The decision came after three hours of testimony that stunned an emotional courtroom.

While Cooper Harris sat dying in the back of his father’s car, prosecutors said, Ross Harris was in his Home Depot office having explicit conversations with up to six different women.

“These conversations he was having with these females … of what nature were they?” the prosecutor asked Detective Phil Stoddard of the Cobb County Police Department.

“The most common term would be sexting,” Stoddard said.

Harris' attorney objected, saying Ross Harris sexting and evidence of marital and financial problems had nothing to do with Cooper Harris' death, an event they called a tragic accident and nothing more.

But prosecutors spent a lot of time insinuating that Cooper's death was not an accident and that Harris had looked up websites about living without children, about people dying, and on how to survive in prison.

They said Harris often acted cold and detached after Cooper's death.

“He goes, ‘I dreaded how he would look,’” Stoddard said. 

“Dreaded, past tense?” the prosecutor asked.

“Yeah, past tense,” Stoddard said.

Harris only showed emotion when witnesses testified he was a loving father, occasionally wiping tears as prosecutors described Cooper’s death.

His wife Leanna sat a few feet behind him, she also, the detective testified, acted strangely, first when she learned Cooper wasn't at his day care.

“They walked back into the lobby and in front of several witnesses all of a sudden she states, ‘Ross must have left him in the car,’ and they’re like, ‘What?’ ‘There’s no other reason, no other explanation, Ross must have left him in the car.’ And they tried to console her and they’re like, ‘No,’” Stoddard said.

Later Leanna met Ross Harris at the police department.

“She had him set down and he started going through this and she looks at him and said, “Did you say too much?” Stoddard said.

Leanna Harris has not been charged in this case, but has been questioned by police.

Family members had no comment about Thursday’s hearing as they left the courthouse.

The judge said this could become a death penalty case.

Cobb County District Attorney Vic Reynolds made a state shortly after the Thursday's hearing saying:

“Today, Cobb Chief Magistrate Judge Frank Cox conducted a Probable Cause and Bond Hearing in the case of The State v. Justin Ross Harris. After hearing evidence, Judge Cox bound the case over to Superior Court on the charges of cruelty to children in the second degree and felony murder.

"Procedurally, the warrant now is sent to the Cobb District Attorney’s Office for disposition. The investigation by Cobb Police is still in progress, and much work remains. Once law enforcement has completed their investigation, their file will be forwarded to the District Attorney’s Office for review. Only then will prosecution decisions be made. As in all cases, only two elements dictate those decisions: the facts, and the law.

"Media attention and public emotion have no effect on the decisions in this case.

"Ethical standards prohibit the DA’s office from commenting on the evidence, and we will not violate or compromise those standards in any way. This case will run its course and we will follow wherever the evidence leads us."

Summary from the AJC:

Justin Ross Harris viewed videos on the Internet about deaths in hot cars five days before his left his 22-month-old toddler in the family’s sweltering SUV while he went to work, according to testimony from a Cobb County detective on Thursday.

Det. Phil Stoddard, who testified for more than hour during the probable cause and bond hearing, provided a stunning account of the day young Cooper Harris died and elements of his father’s personal life.

Among some of the most explosive pieces of testimony included:

  • Justin Ross Harris engaged in sexual texts with underage girls on the day his son was left in the car.
  • Harris also visited an Internet site for people who want to live “child free.”
  • Cooper was alert during breakfast at a nearby Chick-fil-A.
  • The toddler is believed to have died before noon on June 18. 
  • When Harris’ wife Leanna was told her son was dead, “she showed no emotion.”

Check for updates as the story develops:

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