BRUNSWICK — Using Justin Ross Harris’ own words, lead Cobb County prosecutor Chuck Boring on Monday painted a portrait of a man who had reached “a breaking point.”
He was leading a double life, deceiving friends and family who saw him as a doting father and loving husband, Boring said. Instead, the former Home Depot web developer was more interested in pursuing a life of reckless abandon, spending his time having sex with prostitutes and sending illicit texts to underage girls, the prosecutor said.
Harris’ family, including 22-month-old son, Cooper, had become an obstacle, according to Boring.
“I love my son and all but we both need escapes,” Harris wrote on Whisper, an anonymous messaging service, moments before leaving Cooper inside his SUV on what was the hottest day of 2014 up to that point. Boring repeated the message six times throughout his opening statement.
“Those were the words of a killer,” Boring told the six-man, six-woman jury. “The words that reveal the motive for this man who killed his child in the most horrific, tortuous, unimaginable way.”
The defense, which will respond with its opening statement Tuesday morning, has contended from the beginning that Cooper’s death was a tragic accident.
Boring offered a mountain of incriminating evidence that demonstrated how difficult it will be for the defense to convince jurors Harris is not guilty of murder. But there were no new bombshells, nothing that would seem to catch the defense off guard.
Still, taken collectively, Harris’ actions in the days and months leading up to his son’s death raise plenty of questions.
Leading up to the June 18, 2014, incident, Harris’ life was “spiralling out of control” as he engaged in increasingly risky sexual conduct, Boring said. One day, he surprised a woman he’d been exchanging messages by showing up unannounced at a Walmart, then coaxing her into the car and getting her to kiss him, the prosecutor said.
There was what Boring described as his unnatural behavior after he screeched to a halt at the Akers Mill Square shopping center, the point where he said he realized Cooper was dead. There were also the inconsistent statements Harris gave to police while questioned, the prosecutor said.
For example, Harris walked away from his car at Akers Mill when witnesses tried to administer CPR to Cooper. He also flipped off a police officer who asked for his ID and told another officer, “Shut the (expletive) up. My son just died.”
When put in the back of a squad car, Harris acted “calm, cool and collected” and shed no tears, Boring said. Also, the prosecutor added, his voice full of disdain, “He complains it’s hot in the back of the car.”
At police headquarters, when told he was being charged with murder, Harris said, “But there was no malicious intent,” according to Boring. Then, when placed in a holding cell, the prosecutor said he casually struck up a conversation with others in the Cobb jail, asking, “What’s up guys?” and “What are y’all in for?”
Harris faces eight charges, including two different types of murder counts. One accuses him of intentionally killing his son. The other says that Harris committed felony murder due to his own criminal negligence.
If you take Harris’ explanation for what occurred, his own words warrant a murder conviction due to his negligence, Boring said. While Cooper was “cooking to death” in the parking lot, Harris messaged more than 30 people that day. Most of them were women and most of the messages concerned sex.
But Boring told jurors there is “overwhelming evidence this was not an accident.”
Boring said Harris had too short a drive from the Chick-fil-A to the intersection where he was supposed to turn and take Cooper to daycare to forget his son was in the car. The prosecutor also said this was a “normal” day for Harris because 19 of the past 25 days he’d dropped Cooper off at daycare before going to work.
When he got to his office parking lot, Harris chose to back into his parking space, Boring noted. Harris’ 2011 Hyudai Tucson had no back-up camera on the dashboard, meaning if Harris looked back while parking he had to have seen Cooper sitting in his rear-facing car seat right behind him, the prosecutor argued.
Also, Boring said, when Harris got in his car that day at 4:15 p.m. to go meet friends to see a movie, he had to have smelled a stench from inside the car.
“Ladies and gentlemen, you’re going to hear from numerous law enforcement officers, someone from the medical examiner’s office,” Boring said. “They’re going to tell you that even hours after the body was taken away, they could smell it. … There was no doubt there was a stench coming from that car.”
And Boring told jurors that Harris had watched a video five days before Cooper’s death, about a vet warning pet owners how hot the inside of a car could get in the summertime. When questioned, Harris told investigators, “I thought to myself it would be horrible if that happened to my son,” Boring said.
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