The father whose baby died last month after being left in a hot car all day wanted a “child-free life,” had taken out two life insurance policies on the toddler and had been sexting girls in the hours before the death, prosecutors said Thursday during a court hearing.
Justin Ross Harris is facing charges of felony murder and 2nd-degree child cruelty. He was in court Thursday for a probable cause hearing in the death of his 22-month-old son, Cooper.
On June 18, police say, Harris strapped the boy into a rear-facing car seat after stopping for breakfast and headed to work at Home Depot. He left the boy in the car all day.
Prosecutors argued during the hearing that Justin Harris wanted a "child-free life." A detective on the stand noted Harris had been sexting girls, one as young as 17 years old, throughout the day while he was at work.
During testimony, Det. Phil Stoddard noted Harris had two life insurance policies on Cooper's life and prosecutors argue they’ll show Harris was having financial trouble.
Harris was emotionless during interviews with police, but was visibly upset when left alone with his wife, Leanne Harris. At that point, police say he told his wife he was worried about facing felony charges and potentially losing his job.
Harris routinely took his son to daycare and the trip from the Chick-fil-A to work was a short trip, Stoddard told the court. And prosecutors noted several opportunities for the car seat to appear in Justin Harris' line of sight during the trip.
Video shows Harris returning to the car at lunch after purchasing light bulbs and tossing them on the front seat before returning to work, according to Stoddard. Medical examination suggested Cooper was likely already dead, he said.
Leaving work seven hours after he first arrived at work, Harris pulled over on his way to see a movie with friends and pulled his son out of the car in the middle of a shopping center parking lot.
According to police testimony, witnesses had said they heard squealing tires and that Justin Harris was upset and erratic and didn't attempt CPR.
Called by the defense, Leonard Madden said he witnessed Harris’s reaction at the scene. Madden told the court that Harris was crying and screaming. “I heard the desperate cries of a father who had just lost his son,” he said.
Search warrants released over the weekend noted that Harris told police he "recently researched, through the internet, child deaths inside vehicles and what temperature it needs to be for that to occur.”
According to Stoddard's testimony, Justin Harris watched a video showing the effects of an animal left unattended in a hot car five days before his son's death.
Stoddard said a review of Justin Harris' computer also showed he read articles on a "child-free" internet billboard and searched, "how to survive in prison."
When outside temperatures are in the 60s, the temperature inside a parked car can rise to more than 110 degrees, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Temperatures can rise 20 degrees in just 10 minutes inside a car.
“Even with a window rolled down two inches, if the outside temperature is in the low 80s° Fahrenheit, the temperature inside a vehicle can reach deadly levels in only 10 minutes,” the NHTSA reports. Further, children’s bodies do not regulate heat as well as adults. “In fact, when left in a hot vehicle, a young child's body temperature may increase three to five times as fast an adult. High body temperatures can cause permanent injury or even death.”