On June 18th, Justin Harris left his 22-month-old son, Cooper Harris, in a SUV for seven hours while at work, resulting in Cooper’s death. The autopsy determined the cause of death was hyperthermia, or overheating. Cooper’s death is a tragedy, and on its surface it appeared as though the father made a horrific mistake of forgetting his son. But the police’s investigation has revealed more information, which calls into question the actions and intentions of Cooper’s parents. Justin Harris, the father, has been charged with murder and second-degree cruelty to a child.
While full details of the investigation have yet to emerge, the pieces we are learning add doubt to any reasonable mind. On his way into work, Harris stopped at a nearby Chick-fil-A to acquire breakfast for himself and his toddler. This has many people puzzled, because a possible excuse of not knowing the child was in the car, or forgetting he was there while in a “morning fog” or routine, seems less likely. Other questionable information includes the fact that Harris allegedly went to his car at lunch time and dropped something in the driver’s side door. A search warrant released by the Cobb County Police Department also reveals that Justin Harris and his wife, Leanna, researched child deaths in hot cars on their computer search engines.
The funeral for Cooper Harris was on Saturday June 28th. You can read his obituary here. At the funeral, Justin Harris called in and spoke to the crowd gathered to remember his son. The mother, Leanna, says she is “absolutely” not mad at her husband over the death of their son.
The case of Justin Harris also calls into question our ability to be impartial, despite what appears on the surface to be evidence of wrongdoing. We must be cautious to judge without all the facts, keep an open and unbiased mind, and allow for the system to do its job in providing a fair trial for Harris. Many cases such as this are tried in the court of public opinion. We have a responsibility to understand the facts and understand what the state must prove. The burden of proof lies with the state to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. According to Georgia Jury instructions, “A reasonable doubt is a doubt of a fair-minded, impartial juror honestly seeking the truth. A reasonable doubt is a doubt based upon common sense and reason. It does not mean a vague or arbitrary doubt, but is a doubt for which a reason can be given, arising from a consideration of the evidence, a lack of evidence, or a conflict in the evidence.”
You can read more information here from Safercar.gov about the dangers of leaving kids in hot cars. It goes without saying; leaving any person (of any age) or animal in a car is an absolute no. It’s also Georgia law that no child under the age of 8 should ever be left alone, even for brief periods of time.
Warrants: Cobb toddler’s mom also researched kids dying in hot cars
AJC: Cobb toddler death case
Criminal warrant for Justin Harris
Take precautions when leaving children home alone