Monday, March 27, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Hot-Car Death Case Will Soon Go to Jury

(CN) — The man accused of intentionally leaving his toddler in a hot car to die loved himself more than his son, lead prosecutor Chuck Boring said Monday.

After 21 days of testimony, the prosecution and defense made their closing arguments in the Justin Ross Harris murder trial. Both sides presented their cases for more than an hour.

Boring hammered home Harris's double life and constant sexting with women and underage girls proved he had a motive to kill his son, Cooper.

The morning of Cooper's death in June 2014, Harris sent a woman a message stating "I love my son and all, but we both need escapes."

Boring said Harris watched a video about hot cars five days before Cooper's death.

Harris remained in the SUV for 30 seconds before getting out and had to lean over to the passenger's side to grab his briefcase and a drink.

"Now that you've heard all the evidence, there is no doubt that Cooper was burned to death in that car," Boring said.

Boring went through the eight charges Harris faces, including the sexual exploitation of a minor. He also said there was "no doubt" that Harris is guilty of criminal negligence.

Harris also faces felony murder counts and felony murder with malice.

"This isn't a case about an adult hating a child," Boring said. "It's just that he loves himself and his other obsession more than that little boy."

"This killer's heart abandoned this child long before he died," Boring added. "[Harris] sat there malignantly while that child cooked in that car."

Lead defense attorney Maddox Kilgore attacked the lead detective in the case, Phil Stoddard of the Cobb County Police Department.

"He'd already decided the case," Kilgore said of Stoddard. " He'd already decided a crime had occurred. He'd already passed judgment."

Kilgore conceded that Harris was responsible for his son's death but did not murder Cooper.

"He has acknowledged that from day one," Kilgore said. "He is responsible. But responsible is not the same thing as criminal."

Kilgore said that Harris simply forgot about Cooper that day and was known to be a good father.

"Everybody that knew him said he loved that little boy more than anything," Kilgore said.

Harris was planning a family cruise in the days leading up to Cooper's death, which Kilgore said proved that he did not intend on killing his son.

When Kilgore showed a video of Harris playing guitar on a bed with Cooper, Harris was seen crying and wiping his face with a tissue.

Kilgore also showed the surveillance video of Harris throwing light bulbs in his car during his lunch break, noting that Stoddard had testified that Harris was in the car because it supported his theory of Harris's guilt.

"As you can see for yourself, he's not 'in there,'" Kilgore said. "He doesn't have a clear view."

While detectives said there was a "stench of death" in the vehicle, Kilgore pointed out that the claim wasn't made until several months had passed. The detectives, he said, were just smelling what they wanted to smell.

"Because it supported their theory," Kilgore said.

Despite their earlier claim that Harris had searched for "child free" websites on his computer, Kilgore pointed out that testimony proved that was not true.

"You've been misled," Kilgore told the jury. "You have been misled. Throughout this trial."

Harris's cheating on his wife and his sexting other women had nothing to do with him forgetting Cooper that day, Kilgore said.

"How does Ross getting fellatio in a car in Tuscaloosa a year and a half before Cooper died, how does that have anything to do with Cooper's death?" Kilgore said. "At all?"

Kilgore concluded his argument by showing slides to the jury of 10 points of evidence that would give them reasonable doubt, noting they would only need one to acquit his client.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.