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Friday, June 14, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Accused Weeps As Ex-Wife Testifies in Hot Car Trial

(CN) — The ex-wife of the Georgia man who left their toddler in a hot car to die testified Monday that they exchanged text messages about their son on the day of his death.

Leanna Taylor, who was married to defendant Justin Ross Harris for nine years, was the first witness called by the defense in the hot car death trial.

Harris is accused of intentionally leaving their child in his SUV to die and faces an eight-count indictment. At times during Taylor's testimony, he held his head on his hand and appeared to be crying.

"When are you getting my buddy?" one of his text messages said, referring to 22-month-old Cooper Harris on June 18, 2014. Taylor said they spoke on the phone earlier that day to discuss who would pick Cooper up from the daycare, which was near Harris's office.

When Taylor arrived at the day care, she found out that Cooper hadn't checked in that day. She went to look for him, and a teacher asked her what she was doing there.

"Cooper is not here," Taylor was told.

"I thought she was joking," said Taylor, who began to panic.

A daycare employee accompanied her to Harris's office at the Home Depot headquarters, but the car wasn't there.

Taylor said she repeatedly tried to call Harris, but his phone went straight to voicemail. At one point a daycare teacher called her and said "I think it's time to call the police."

"I was in complete denial of the situation," she said.

Then, Taylor said, a detective from the Cobb County Police Department called her.

"I could just tell they knew something," Taylor said.

After breaking the news of her son's death, the detectives took Taylor home and asked for a key. They told her they were going to obtain a search warrant. Taylor was then taken to the police station.

Taylor said Ross began "chatting up" the case's lead detective, Phil Stoddard. She said it was "very typical Ross."

Earlier in her testimony, Taylor described Harris as an involved father who split child care duties with her. They took Cooper to the park and several Braves games.

"He wanted to be the one pushing (Cooper) on the swing," Taylor said of Harris.

Harris would sometimes get frustrated with Cooper, but Taylor said he never displayed any malice toward him.

Lead defense attorney Maddox Kilgore asked Taylor several pointed questions about problems in her marriage, which she said was purely sexual.

"There was no sexual relationship," Taylor said. "It was very forced."

Harris admitted to Taylor that he was addicted to pornography, and they sought counseling at their church. On a number of occasions, Taylor found messages Harris had sent to other women from his phone and confronted him.

Taylor didn't know about Harris's cheating and said that she would have left him if she had known he had sex with an escort.

Taylor said she had a hard time believing her son had died.

"Sometimes," Taylor said tearfully, "it still doesn't feel real."

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