This is a running account of testimony in the hot car murder trial. Justin Ross Harris
stands accused of murdering his 22-month-old son Cooper by leaving him in a hot SUV to die in June 2014. Court begins at 8:30 a.m.
Court is adjourned for the day. It will restart Wednesday at 8:30 a.m.
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The defense asks Wilson if he remembers where Harris was when Wilson left the room.
“You just left, he didn’t know you. You have no idea how broken he sounded on that phone talking to his brother, do you?” the attorney said. “You don’t know Ross, right?”
No, Wilson said.
Wilson said he heard about Harris on Facebook while scrolling through his newsfeed but did not follow the news of his case closely.
Wilson said he does not know Harris personally and doesn’t know how he handles stress or trauma.
In the holding room, the women sit on the left and the men sit on the right. There was a group of women laughing, which Wilson said he remembers seeing on the video.
Harris walks into the holding room and sits down in the front row. He put his arm on the back of the chair next to him in what appears to be a laid back manner. There is no audio.
Wilson said the National Enquirer paid him $2,000 for his story.
The defense pointed out that Wilson did not graduate from college. Wilson said he dropped out and started a business.
Wilson said he and Harris sat next to each other for 2 to 2½ hours. The prosecution is about to show video of their encounter.
State calls Mark Wilson, no relation to Kasey Wilson.
He’s 23 and owns a piano moving company. On June 18, 2016, he ended up in Cobb County jail to serve the remainder of a 24-hour sentence for a DUI.
In there, he met Harris who sat down next to him in the holding area.
Wilson said his dad suggested that he give his story to the National Enquirer, which he did. There’s video of him sitting next to Harris.
“When he first walked in, he looked at everyone and said what’s up guys,” Wilson said. “He acted calm and nonchalant.”
He did not seem sad or upset, Wilson testified. Harris asked some of the guys what they were in for.
The state called Kasey Wilson, a crime lab scientist with the state crime lab.
Wilson tests for alcohol and carbon monoxide. She also analyzed Cooper’s blood. She tested for alcohol, which there was none in the system. She also tested for carbon monoxide and found none.
The prosecution has called Larry Lewellen, who has been an employee at the state forensics lab for 35 years. He works in toxicology.
Lewellen is an expert in forensics toxicology – testing for the presence or absence of drugs.
He tested Cooper’s heart blood. It was tested for opiates, benzodiazepines, cocaine and other drugs. They found no evidence of drugs.
We can’t say we found the presence of any drug, common drug sold over the counter or other type of blood, Lewellen said.
Court is back in session.
Boring is cross examining Sanders.
Nothing was blocking Harris’ view of his car when he put the lightbulbs inside, Boring said. No, Sanders said.
Boring brought up the defense pointing out people walking by Harris’ car.
Did you ever see anybody else opening the door, putting anything in the car, leaning by the car, Boring said. No, Sanders said.
“At lunch, Mr. Harris didn’t get into his car,” the defense said.
The court is taking an afternoon break.
Sanders’ boss sent an email to lead Det. Stoddard with the results of an investigation by corporate security. Sanders, however, said he doesn’t believe the investigation was conducted by his department.
“It talks about user browser history,” he said. “We don’t do that.”
Sanders said his boss may have been a facilitator.
Sanders’ corporate security group responds to emergency issues. They were asked to investigate – searching Harris’ emails for key words.
Boring again objected, saying Sanders doesn’t have anything to do with.
This time the judge sustained the objected and the jury won’t be allowed to see the emails right now.
The defense attorney asked about Sanders testifying to the authenticity of videos that his team provided to law enforcement.
“You have no reason to question their authenticity?” the attorney asked. No, Sanders said.
He also asked about emails that Sanders would have nothing to do with.
You have zero to do with this right?” the prosecutor said. Sanders said no. Prosecutor Boring objected to the emails being entered into court.
“This is not the witness” to review these files, Boring said but the judge overruled his objection.
Harris doesn’t turn around to look when there’s someone walking close to his car. It appears that he’s staring at his phone.
There is more video footage of someone walking by Harris’ car without hesitating.
There are a number of people who walk by Harris’ car or get into their own vehicles, the attorney pointed out.
None of them hesitate, look into Harris' car or otherwise act like something is off.
Next there is video of Harris throwing the light bulbs he bought at Home Depot into his SUV at lunchtime. Harris’ head always remains above the roofline of the car. He never actually looks into the car.
The defense attorney pointed out a person who walked right past the driver’s side of Harris’ SUV without stopping.
“There doesn’t appear to be any hesitation by this individual,” the attorney said.
Another clip showed someone climbing into the car next to Harris' at lunchtime, again without hesitation.
They are again viewing Harris driving into the parking lot.
Harris chooses not to back his car into a spot that’s bordered by the tree line and would have partially hid his SUV.
Any time there’s an investigation and there’s a request, you make sure it’s accurate? The attorney asked. Yes, Sanders said. They compare times between access badges and video footage which are slightly off.
The defense is now cross examining Sanders.
Harris reenters the building while staring at his phone in the next video shown.
When Harris leaves for the day and goes out to the car, it is 4:16 p.m.
Boring asked if Sanders said he didn’t expect to see Harris return from lunch and return to his vehicle. He opens the driver side door and puts something inside. Harris passes a person walking in the direction of his vehicle as he walks back into the office. He’s again staring at his phone as he walks.
Lead prosecutor Chuck Boring is showing the jury video of Harris entering the Home Depot office building on the day of Cooper’s death.
Sanders said he also pulled footage from the parking lot from that day. At 9:25 a.m., the video shows Harris pulling into the parking lot in his SUV. It took him just over 20 seconds to park from the time he entered the lot.
Harris does not get out of the car right away. 33 seconds elapse between when he parks and when he gets out.
The prosecution calls Greg Sanders to the stand. Sanders works in security at Home Depot headquarters.
He has the ability to pull security videos and access card entry information for both the offices buildings and Little Apron Academy where Cooper went to daycare.
He did so for law enforcement in the Harris case.
Court is back in session.
Could any of the abrasions have occurred after his death when he was moved from the car, put on the group for CPR, the defense asked? Yes, it’s possible, Frist said.
The court is now out for lunch break.
Cooper had partially digested food, including potatoes. “He may have had digested juices in his stomach, and he may have passed gas,” Frist said.
Since abrasions were in multiple locations, it means he’s moving about and must have felt them at some point, Frist said.
The information you had from police from the very beginning was that Harris left Cooper in the car, the defense attorney said. Yes, Frist said.
The autopsy can’t tell us what was going on in Harris’ mind, the attorney said.
There was no gases emanating from Cooper, the defense pointed out.
“He’s in there, he’s breathing, he’s sweating and he’s urinated,” Frist said. Plus in the time leading up to death, the sphincter releases, so there is gas that may have escaped, Frist said.
So there weren’t decomposition smells per se, Frist said he believes. But he does believe that especially as it got to around 4 o’clock in the afternoon when the temperature in the car would have been hot, there would have the stale odor of someone who’s been breathing, sweating, urinating, Frist said.
“There was a different smell than normal,” he said.
Whether Cooper had been left accidentally or on purpose, Cooper would have experienced the same trauma and death, the defense pointed out. Yes, Frist said.
It’s unknown exactly how long it took Cooper to reach a dangerous heat level and how long it took him to die.
I’ve been told that the temperature was only in the low 90s in the car at around noon, Frist said. “If that’s true, he could have survived that,” he said.
Cooper’s death certificate was filed on Frist’s last day before retiring. Frist did not sign the death certificate.
Frist explained again why he wrote undetermined on Cooper’s report before he retired – because the investigation was ongoing.
“Because we have a paper document, it doesn’t mean that’s the end of the story,” Frist said.
Things can change. That’s why there are amended reports.
It’s possible that Cooper could have been alive around lunchtime, Frist testified.
Cooper would have experienced nausea, a headache, dehydration, seizures potentially and anxiety
“He probably would have struggled as he was becoming more and more uncomfortable,” Frist said.
Harris is sobbing as Frist describes how his son died.
A hyperthermia death would have taken time.
You’re going to go through various phases when you’re getting heated but you’re not in a place where it’s going to cause death, Frist said. “It can be prolonged.”
It’s very difficult to give the exact time of death, Frist said.
Frist said he believes Cooper died a slow death.
Is it fairly routine that you would task your investigators with getting a medical history, the prosecutor asked. Yes, Frist said.
When Frist retired Oct. 1, 2014, the complete investigation had not been done so his report called cause of death as undetermined to allow for further investigation. “I wanted other investigative agencies to conclude their work before making a final determination,” Frist said.
It was his intention though to label the cause as hyperthermia and a homicide, Frist said.
Frist is noting abrasions on Cooper, pointing them out in photos to the jurors.
He had abrasions on his cheek, on an arm, on his knee.
Cooper also had an abrasion on his neck, signs of something rubbing against him. The little boy had a bandaid on his ankle.
Body temperature can go up to 104 degrees before you start to see permanent damage and death, Frist said. Your cells start to be unable to do their jobs, managing the organs.
The prosecution is asking about the autopsy, showing photos to the jury.
The greenish discoloration on his stomach is evidence that Cooper’s organs were beginning to decompose.
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Frist is continuing to testify.
“He appeared to be a healthy, young 22-month-old male child,” Frist said of Cooper.
Cooper had a lividity pattern, referring to blood pooling in the body, which stains the skin and allows them to determine the position of the body at death.
There were abrasions on Cooper’s body, around his head and face and his arms and legs.
You can get them from rubbing a hard surface. In this case, if you come into contact with a hot surface, it can also cause abrasions, Frist said.
Cooper died of hyperthermia – excessive heat. Forensically his death was due to someone else’s hand, which makes it homicide, Frist said.
Court is back in session.
Court is in recess for 15 minutes.
A pathologist at a hospital is in charge of labs, hematology, material removed during surgeries and autopsies as needed.
Forensic pathologist has extra training to understand non-natural causes of death.
The medical examiner is in charge of the individual case. An investigator goes out to document the scene and bring the body back to the examiner’s office.
The medical examiner discusses the scene with the investigator.
The prosecution called its next witness, Brian Frist, who was the chief medical examiner in Cobb in 2014, although he is now retired.
During a meeting with the DA and Cobb police, Jackson was made aware of video in the case but did not view it.
Jackson did view a reenactment of what happened. Detectives were evaluating Cooper’s position in the car.
Jackson said he did not offer an opinion as to whether Harris was guilty or not. He just described the scene, he said.
In your experience, does the Cobb County police department bring charges before an investigation is complete? the attorney asked. Jackson said he doesn’t work with the police department.
He also said it wasn’t unusual to receive a report from the department very soon after a crime occurred. Jackson received a report from police the day after Cooper’s death.
At one point, there was a meeting with law enforcement officers at the medical examiner’s office.
They were still doing their investigation at that time, Jackson said, adding that he knew they were considering charges against Harris.
He also met with the DA, which Jackson said wasn’t typical.
The defense attorney is asking Jackson about Leanna’s unwillingness to cooperate.
Jackson had called her and she was making funeral arrangements. He asked her about Cooper’s medical history but referred him to folks she had already given that information too, not outright refusing Jackson.
There was no indication that Cooper had been abused. He was a “normal, healthy child,” Jackson testified.
Jackson donned a full body crime scene suit, a mask and gloves in order to not contaminate the crime scene.
He had never dealt before with a situation where a child died from the heat.
The defense is now cross examining Jackson.
Jackson was contacted by police around 5:15 p.m. on the evening of Cooper’s death to come to the scene.
At that time, Jackson wasn’t told that the scene was a crime scene. A lieutenant told him when he arrived that “foul play” could not be ruled out.
Harris’ then-wife, Leanna Taylor, was uncooperative, Jackson testified, refusing to give him her son’s history.
She told him he would need to talk to the Cobb police department or her attorney.
Jackson said he subpoenaed Cooper’s medical records from Kaiser Permanente.
Prior to his death, Cooper was a healthy young boy.
Jackson said he put Cooper on a white sheet “out of respect” so that the boy’s face would not be against the hot pavement while his back was examined.
Cooper was sweaty.
“There was an odor of urine present,” Jackson testified.
There was only urine in Cooper’s diaper, not feces.
Cooper had abrasions on his head, back, legs and arms. There was a light green discoloration on his stomach.
Cooper was laying on the pavement, covered by a white sheet, next to the SUV when Jackson arrived.
The assistant district attorney showed a photo of Cooper’s body, uncovered, to the jury. His legs were stiff, bent as if he was still sitting in the car seat.
There are different types of rigor mortis. Firm rigor mortis is when you can’t move body parts. Cooper was in a state of moderate rigor mortis, which means the investigator was able to move his legs and arms.
Court is now in session.
The prosecution is questioning the Martin Jackson, an investigator with the Cobb County medical examiner’s office who examined Cooper.