Michael Baygents, brother of felony murder suspect Justin Ross Harris, testifies in Cobb County Magistrate Court during a probable cause hearing July 3. Baygents has criticized the police investigation of the death of his 22 month-old nephew, Cooper Harris, who died June 18 after being left inside a sweltering car for hours. Kelly J. Huff/Marietta Daily Journal-POOL
Photo: Kelly J. Huff
Photo: Kelly J. Huff

Ross Harris' brother: 'they rushed to judgment'

The prosecution of Ross Harris, accused of leaving his son in the family SUV to die, is a "terrible mistake," Harris' brother told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an exclusive interview.

The comments of Michael Baygents are part of a major examination by the AJC of the case against Harris, including a review of the videotape of Harris' arrival at the Home Depot parking lot the day Cooper Harris died, plus a transcript of Harris' probable cause hearing July 3. The conclusion: some of the points police used to support their assertion that Harris intentionally killed his son are matters of interpretation or are simply incorrect.

Baygents, a veteran police officer in Tuscaloosa, Ala., is sharply critical of the testimony of Cobb County police Detecitve Phil Stoddard, who detailed the case against Harris during the hearing. This is the first time Baygents has spoken publicly since he testified.

“It’s been frustrating to see it portrayed the way it’s been by the police department,” said Baygents, a sergeant and an instructor for the Law Enforcement Academy in Tuscaloosa. “I’m very angry with them. I think they rushed to judgment. I think Stoddard rushed to judgment. I think he made a terrible mistake.”

He disputed several points of evidence:

  • The prosecution's suggestion that Harris and his wife, Leanna, had financial difficulties. Baygents has reviewed the couple's finances and says: "To say they were in financial trouble is just crazy."
  • The assertion that Harris might have killed his son to collect on two insurance policies, one for $25,000 and another for $2,000. “To think that he killed Cooper for $27,000 is a joke,” Baygents said.
  • The claim that Harris wanted to pursue a "child-free" life, based on his visit to a web page for childless people. “I know Ross," he said.  "Cooper was his buddy. To see him portrayed as a terrible parent is just not right,”

Subscribers may read the full story on our premium website, MyAJC.com. Also featured are key passages from the transcript of the probable cause hearing, and word clouds of the closing arguments by both the prosecution and Harris' defense attorney.

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