In the six weeks since her son’s death, Leanna Harris has lost her anonymity, some consulting work and her belief in the justice system – but not her faith in her husband’s innocence.
The mother of 22-month-old Cooper Harris conveyed those sentiments in a “crime victim impact” questionnaire sent to her by the Cobb County District Attorney’s Office.
Her husband, Justin Ross Harris, remains jailed in Cobb on charges of child cruelty and felony murder. Although the charges do not require a finding of malicious intent, prosecutors have said they believe he intended to kill the couple’s only child by leaving him locked inside his SUV for seven hours on a hot summer afternoon.
Ross Harris insists he forgot that his son was strapped in his car seat as he reported to work at Home Depot on June 18. Leanna Harris said she believes him implicitly.
“Ross was a wonderful father, and he loved Cooper with all his heart,” she wrote on the questionnaire sent by the DA’s office. “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. I want you to know what a loving father he was.”
Leanna Harris has not been charged with any crime. But at her husband’s probable cause hearing last month prosecutors questioned her behavior on the day Cooper died.
Her attorney told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he hopes the district attorney’s treating his client as a victim will quiet speculation that she is anything other than a devastated mother.
“I hope really that the public understands they have jumped the gun … in thinking that she had anything to do with it whatsoever,” Lawrence Zimmerman said Friday. “The District Attorney’s Office is calling her a victim. And I hope the public will take the lead from the district attorney.”
However, Kim Isaza, a spokeswoman for the Cobb District Attorney Vic Reynolds, said the public shouldn’t read anything into the package sent to Leanna Harris, which included a book about coping with tragic death.
“We are required by the Crime Victim’s Bill of Rights to send those forms to all victims or a victim’s next of kin, and it is standard procedure in the Cobb District Attorney’s Office to do so,” Isaza said in an email.
Criminal defense attorney Steve Sadow, who has no involvement in the case, said Leanna Harris didn’t do herself any favors by responding to the questions.
“Discretion is the better part of valor,” Sadow said. “You just don’t know what the intention of the other side might be.”
Zimmerman acknowledged it’s possible the questionnaire may just be a ploy intended to gauge whether Leanna Harris would consider cooperating with the prosecution.
“I don’t know that it’s a red herring,” Zimmerman said. “I hope that they are being forthright and truthful when they are sending these packages out to people.”
The statement provides the first glimpse into Leanna Harris’ state of mind since her son’s funeral, where her lack of outward emotion drew unfavorable commentary from some observers.
She appears to address that criticism in her answers, writing that the furor surrounding Cooper’s death “has prevented us from grieving the right way, if there is a right way.”
“Some days I completely break down because I miss my baby and my family so much,” she wrote.
The 30-year-old dietitian, whose responses were vetted by Zimmerman, wrote that she now lives a “tortured existence.” She has moved from the couple’s home in Marietta back to her native Alabama where, she writes, she’s still supported by friends and family.
“The death of my son is still unreal,” she said, noting that Cooper would have turned 2 last Saturday. “Not a moment goes by when I don’t think about him or what our future would have held. The amount of grief this has carried is indefinable, it cannot be explained in words or emotions.”
Harris said she is in counseling for “grief and depression.”
She converses regularly with her husband via video conferencing, Zimmerman said.
Accusations that Ross Harris regularly participated in sexually charged conversations with women online are no one’s business, Harris wrote.
“Whatever issues that transpired in our marriage is between God and us, for He will judge those moral sins,” she says. “The rush to judgment by the public and mainstream media has left me with little confidence in our legal system and our society.”
And while she feels some relief at being termed a victim by her husband’s accusers, Leanna Harris is still fearful prosecutors may attempt to implicate her in Cooper’s death, Zimmerman said.
“She’s concerned every single day of her life,” he said. “She’s very concerned because she’s afraid that, with the power of the government, who knows? Who wouldn’t be concerned?”
Staff writer Bill Rankin contributed to this article.