Dad Sexted as Boy Died in Hot Car, Judge Hears

     MARIETTA, Ga. (CN) – Justin Ross Harris, the Georgia man accused of leaving his toddler in a hot car to die last summer, expressed a need for “escapes” from his responsibilities while sexting with several woman as his child died, a detective testified Monday.
     Prosecutors contend the texts by Harris, a former Home Depot web developer, point to a motive for why he allegedly left 22-month-old Cooper Harris to die outside his office in June 2014.
     But Harris’s defense attorney, H. Maddox Kilgore, argued Monday that charges Harris sent sexually explicit material to minors, are not material to the murder charge he faces for allegedly intentionally killing his son.
     Harris has been held in the Cobb County jail without bond since his arrest on charges of and faces charges of malice murder, felony murder and cruelty to children. He has also been charged with criminal attempt to commit sexual exploitation and dissemination of harmful material to minors.
     Monday’s hearing was on a defense motion to severe the cases and hold separate trials on the murder and sexting charges.
     “Severance is warranted, and, I believe, mandated in this case, Kilgore told Cobb County Superior Court Judge Mary Staley.
     “How do sending these photos show disposition to killing a child?” he asked.
     On June 18, 2014, Harris left Cooper in a rear-facing car seat in the back seat of his Hyundai Tucson, and then spent the next seven hours at work while his son sweltered to death outside.
     Investigators previously testified that the outside temperature was 92 degrees the day Cooper died, but that inside the closed vehicle it quickly climbed over 100 degrees.
     Cobb County Police Detective Phil Stoddard has testified in the past about Harris’s alleged rampant exchanging of sexually-explicit texts and emails with minors. At Monday’s hearing much of his testimony focused on Harris’s alleged misery in his marriage.
     “I miss having time to myself and going out with friends,” he texted one woman shortly before he arrived at work the day his son died.
     A short time later, while at a Chick-fil-A restaurant with Cooper, Harris wrote, “I love my son and all, but we both need escapes.”
     Stoddard also testified that while there have been reports that both Harris and his wife conducted online searches related to “child-free” lifestyles and joined a “child-free” forum on Reddit, he has no evidence the couple conspired to kill their son.
     Stoddard said Harris did not actively search for the term “child-free” on his computer or mobile devices; he simply clicked on three Reddit posts.
     Stoddard’s statements caused Kilgore to snap, “None of that … adheres to motive to murder his child, but it sounded good at the probable cause hearing didn’t it?”
     Harris, 34, sat quietly throughout the hearing, his hands unshackled to enable him to take notes.
     Much of what he and the court heard on Monday involved his sexting with underage girls, which has also been a major topic of previous hearings.
     Stoddard said Harris communicated with a number of women and underage girls on the phone apps Kik and Snapchat.
     Stoddard spoke in particular on Monday of Harris’s exchanges with a 15-year-old girl.
     “I want to see your hot, wet pussy,” Harris wrote on Feb. 28, 2014.
     While Harris has not been charged with child pornography, Stoddard testified that evidence of child porn was found on his phone on the anonymous messaging app, Whisper, on which Harris’ username was “Morgan Freeman’s penis.”
     During a Whisper exchange, Stoddard said, a “young lady” messaged Harris a picture of her genitalia and admitted to him that she was 15 years old.
     “That’s a nice pussy for a 15 year old,” Harris replied, later asking for more photos and to “make me a naughty older man.”
     Judge Staley ultimately denied the defense motion to severe the cases and hold two separate trials for Harris.
     Harris’ trial date on both sets of charges is set to begin on February 22.

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