The public seems to have made up its mind about Ross Harris of Georgia.
Police say Justin Ross Harris, above in court, intentionally killed his toddler son, Cooper. His wife, Leanna Harris, is at left. Dr. Phillip Resnick, who has studied parents who’ve killed their children, said if Ross planned to seek a divorce, Cooper might have stood in the way.
Long before his son was born, Ross Harris was known around the office as “Soccer Dad,” so intensely did he want a child. And after Cooper Harris arrived 22 months ago, his father wouldn’t shut up about him, to the point that one colleague says people tired of hearing about the baby.
Is this a man who would deliberately leave his son to die in the family SUV?
In the public mind, yes. Support for Harris had already turned to suspicion; last week, with just a few words of testimony by a police detective in Cobb County, Ga., suspicion hardened into loathing.
As his son struggled in the broiling car, Harris was sitting in his air-conditioned office, sexting to women he had encountered online, the detective said. Harris also returned to his car at midday — something he did not tell police about — ostensibly to place a package on the front seat, but really, the detective implied, to gauge the progress of his plot.
Social media erupted with anger and calls for an execution: Lock Harris in a hot car and let him die as his son did. No trial needed.
And yet, if the public is done with Justin Ross Harris, 33, medical science and the law have barely begun to consider him.
Psychiatrists who study criminal behavior said Harris’ sexual activities, while repellent, have little bearing on whether he set out to kill his son. Research shows no link, they said, between parents who are unfaithful to their spouses and those who kill their children.
Atlanta criminal defense attorney Ed Garland, meanwhile, said that although Thursday’s hearing affirmed that prosecutors have probable cause to seek indictments, it left him with the impression that the case against Harris is “pretty damn weak.”
“All of that evidence was not relevant to show whether this was a deliberate act,” Garland said. “It’s a stretch and a leap to connect all that to a knowing and deliberate killing of his own child.”
Stunned and saddened
As for the people who know Harris, most appeared stunned and saddened by the crude revelations. The dissonance between the Harris they know and the Harris who emerged in police testimony was truly confounding. Before he was a software engineer at Home Depot, before his face turned up on TV, Ross Harris was the voice on the other end of the phone for people who dialed 911 in Tuscaloosa, Ala. He worked as emergency dispatcher from 2006 to 2009.
A friend from Home Depot testified Thursday that Harris spoke of Cooper almost incessantly, so often that people were tired of hearing about him. Yet Harris had visited an online forum devoted to discussions of living “child-free,” police said.
The police version of Ross Harris — a version layered with depravity, manipulation and calculation — will be hard for jurors to stomach, particularly his sexual adventures with strangers on the Web.
At one point, a woman texted Harris: “Do you have a conscience?” Harris replied with a single word, according to police. “Nope.”