Cobb County authorities say that Justin Ross Harris left his son Cooper strapped into his car seat on a hot June day in 2014, leading to the child’s death in the super-heated vehicle. And, the police say, Harris did it on purpose. But did he? AJC legal affairs writer Bill Rankin returns for Season 2 of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s “Breakdown” podcast, delivering weekly updates on Harris’ murder trial.
You can listen to the episodes at the links below, or go to the iTunes store to binge listen the entire series.
EPISODE 1: Death in a hot car — mistake or murder? The AJC’s Bill Rankin explores the evidence against Justin Ross Harris, and how it just seems to keep piling up. You’ll hear the incredible anguish of two parents who left their children to die in the car, just as Harris did. And you’ll learn more about Harris’ near obsession with sexting strange women, even as his child was dying.
EPISODE 2: Did the police get the evidence right? The state’s murder case against Harris is formidable. The lead police investigator has already testified at length in pretrial hearings: some key testimony seems utterly damning, but some seems totally wrong.
EPISODE 3: Leanna Harris — once implicated, never charged. Cobb police insinuated a number of times that Leanna (now Leanna Taylor, since her divorce came through in March) might have helped her husband plan the murder of their son. But those claims faded and then all but disappeared. Taylor was never charged with any crime and is expected to be a witness for the defense in Ross Harris’s murder trial.
EPISODE 4: Deciding the case before it begins? The most important moments of the Justin Ross Harris trial may be unfolding right now — even before testimony begins or the lawyers ever state their cases. Welcome to jury selection, where cases are often won or lost.
EPISODE 5: A jury of his peers, with some preconceived notions. Jury selection, which may be close to conclusion, has taken an interesting turn. Nearly a third of the jurors qualified for the final panel — the one from which the 12 jurors and a number of alternates will be chosen — say they believe Justin Ross Harris is guilty.
EPISODE 7: Harris trial moves to Brunswick, Georgia. The Ross Harris trial heads to Brunswick after a four-month hiatus. What sort of jury will Judge Mary Staley Clark find on Georgia’s coast? Here’s why the trial’s new venue could be called a prosecutor’s dream.
EPISODE 8: The jury panel is assembled. Jury selection isn’t fast, but it is fascinating. Prospective jurors in the Harris case speak of magical powers, preconceived notions and their favorite TV shows.
EPISODE 10: Strong openings ahead of the storm. The murder trial against Justin Ross Harris is finally underway. The prosecution and defense begin with powerful opening statements. After that, the first prosecution witnesses take the stand. Then, three days into the trial, Hurricane Matthew starts toward Georgia.
EPISODE 11: A short week of crucial testimony. The judge, lawyers and jurors return to Brunswick after Hurricane Matthew. The trial starts back up with the initial focus on little Cooper Harris. Prosecutors introduce testimony about the “smell of death,” and the jury hears from a hooker who said she had sex with Harris weeks before Cooper’s death.
EPISODE 12: From the gutter to the homicide file. Prosecutors open a new week of testimony by calling one woman after another to the witness stand. Harris pursued all of them – including two teenagers – over sexually explicit online chats. Finally, lead detective Phil Stoddard takes the stand and prosecutors play video of Harris in the hours after his arrest.
EPISODE 13: The state rests. The state rests its case after calling 51 witnesses to the stand over the course of 16 days of testimony. They present no eyewitnesses, no DNA on a murder weapon, no irrefutable video. Instead, prosecutors put into evidence a mountain of circumstantial evidence and a pile of filth – being Harris’ deviant sex life.
EPISODE 14: Leanna Taylor takes the stand. Ross Harris’ ex-wife, Leanna Taylor, takes the witness stand to say that Harris never meant to leave Cooper to die. Some of Harris’ relatives and closest friends testified too, but in the end, Harris chose not to testify in his own defense.
EPISODE 15: The jury gets the case. The prosecution and the defense give impassioned, powerful closing arguments. Prosecutor Chuck Boring insists Ross Harris lived a double life. Defense attorney Maddox Kilgore contends Cooper’s death was a horrible accident and that police rushed to judgment. The jury then gets the case and sends a number of questions to Judge Mary Staley Clark.
EPISODE 16: We have a verdict. After four days of deliberations, the jury in Brunswick returns with a verdict in The State of Georgia v. Justin Ross Harris. Cobb County’s district attorney says this is no time for a celebration. Harris’s lawyers, in an emotional interview, say they are stunned by the outcome.
EPISODE 17: Post script. Justin Ross Harris returns to Cobb County and is sentenced for the murder of his 22-month-old son Cooper. We delve into the contradictions in the jury’s verdict. And we talk to some Breakdown listeners who seem to know as much about the case as anyone — and have completely divergent views on the outcome.