Justin Ross Harris was inconsolable at the defense table Tuesday morning as former Cobb County Chief Medical Examiner Brian Frist described autopsy photos of Harris’ 22-month-old son Cooper for the jury in Glynn County Superior Court.
Harris, 35, is accused of intentionally leaving Cooper to die in his Hyundai Tucson outside his office building June 18, 2014.
Several jurors also reacted emotionally to the evidence and testimony, in which Frist described how Cooper died from hyperthermia, and how that affected his body. Initially, Frist said evidence of blood pooling in the body suggests he died slumped over to the left. He also had a number of small abrasions across his body.
Cobb County Chief Deputy Assistant District Attorney Jesse Evans suggested in his questioning that the injuries may have come from struggling against the car seat restraints as the temperature in the car continued to rise that day.
Frist said that was possible, but under examination and with information from Cobb County police, couldn’t say there was any one cause. He also said it wasn’t entirely possible to determine a time of death — that Cooper would’ve undergone a number of phases through the day before his temperature went to more than 104 degrees and his organs began shutting down.
Frist told the court Cooper may have been alive when Harris returned to his vehicle at lunch, but said under defense questioning that it could’ve happened before that as well.
The investigation was still ongoing when Frist resigned his office amid controversy.
He said because of the time of his resignation and the state of the investigation, he classified Cooper’s death as undetermined, but later figured it to be homicide.
“Forensically, it’s clear it’s homicide,” Frist said, because Cooper died by actions of another human being — in this case, his father.
In his opening statement, defense attorney Maddox Kilgore said the fact Harris left his son in the car is undisputed, but that it was completely accidental.
In afternoon testimony, both the prosecution and defense pored over parking lot surveillance video from outside the Home Depot office building known as the Treehouse. The video showed when Harris arrived the morning of June 18, tossed a bag of light bulbs inside after lunch and left that afternoon. Greg Sanders, a company security officer, confirmed the timestamps on the videos and the movements of Harris and his vehicle.
Around 9:26 a.m., Harris pulled into the parking lot, then had to back up and adjust his direction to pull into his parking spot. At present, it’s unknown whether Harris looked over his shoulder as he backed up, which would’ve put Cooper in full view.
As defense attorney Carlos Rodriguez noted during questioning, several people passed by the Tucson after Harris parked in the morning. Several more people passed again after he tossed in the light bulbs at lunch.
Close inspection of the video showed it took Harris around six seconds to open the driver’s door, toss in the lightbulbs, close the door and walk away. As Rodriguez pointed out, and Sanders confirmed, Harris’ head was above the roofline the entire time. He didn’t stick his head in the vehicle.
Further viewing of Harris leaving the parking lot showed he got in the Tucson and took off quickly, as well.
Later in the day Mark Wilson, a Rome piano mover, took the stand. He confirmed he sold his story to the National Enquirer for $2,000 regarding meeting Harris in the intake pit at the Cobb County jail. Wilson, who was serving a 24-hour sentence on a DUI conviction, said Harris appeared friendly and conversational during the three hours they spent together.
Court resumes Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. at the Glynn County Courthouse.