Murder suspect told police he researched child deaths in hot cars

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by CNN

KMOV.com

Posted on June 27, 2014 at 9:20 AM

Updated Saturday, Jun 28 at 9:19 AM

(CNN) -- The suspect in a Georgia toddler’s death told police he used the Internet to research child deaths inside vehicles, a search warrant said.

The father, Justin Ross Harris, 33, has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and second-degree child cruelty in the death of his 22-month-old son, Cooper Harris. The boy died after he was left seven hours in a sweltering SUV on June 18.

“During an interview with Justin, he stated that he recently researched, through the internet, child deaths inside vehicles and what temperature it needs to be for that to occur,” according to a sworn statement in the warrant from a police officer. “Justin stated that he was fearful that this could happen.”

 

According to search warrants from a Cobb County magistrate court, investigators seized a number of items from the father’s home: An iPhone 5, Hyundai car, home laptop computer, computer tower, a Google Chromecast Internet searcher and other electronic devices.

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Cobb County Police said the purpose of the search warrants was to find blood, DNA, writings, photographs relating to child abuse, child neglect, homicide to children, and cruelty to children.

Justin Harris sits in jail without bond, with an appearance before a judge set for next Thursday. Police in Cobb County, part of metro Atlanta, have been tight-lipped and haven’t said whether what they found on the computer is one of the reasons they arrested Harris.

Father won’t attend son’s funeral

The funeral for Cooper Harris was to be held Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Justin Harris won’t be allowed out of the Cobb County Jail to attend, sheriff’s office spokeswoman Nancy Bodiford said.

The child’s mother wanted to obtain photos of her son from seized computers for use at the funeral, but Cobb County police turned down her request, said Maddox Kilgore, the attorney for Harris.

Police spokesman Michael Bowman told CNN, “If we have evidence, we will not be releasing that due to chain of custody issues.”

Bowman would not confirm what, if any, evidence they had in their possession.

A charity fund at Harris’ employer, The Home Depot, will pay for the funeral, company spokeswoman Catherine Woodling told CNN. Harris, who worked as a web designer, has been placed on unpaid administrative leave, she said.

The funding of the funeral from the Home Depot charity, the Homer Fund, is a “standard approach,” she said.

In an obituary for Cooper appearing in the Tuscaloosa News, the family asks that in lieu of flowers donations should be made to the Homer Fund.

'What have I done?'
 
Initially, police seemed sympathetic, describing the death of Cooper Harris on June 18 as the result of tragic absentmindedness.
 
They said the dad had apparently forgotten the boy was in the back seat of his Hyundai Tucson; he didn't remember until he was done with his work day, drove a couple of miles, and pulled into a shopping center parking lot.
 
But police became suspicious as they investigated.
 
"The chain of events that occurred in this case does not point toward simple negligence and evidence will be presented to support this allegation," said Cobb County Police Chief John House.
A criminal warrant released Wednesday described the events that led to Cooper's death.
 
A timeline of events
 
On the day Cooper died, June 18, Harris stopped for breakfast at a fast-food restaurant and afterward strapped his son into a rear-facing child restraint seat on his SUV's backseat, police said.
He drove to his workplace, a Home Depot corporate office, about a half-mile away. He works as a Web designer there.
 
Normally, he would take his son to an on-site day care. But that day, police said, Harris left him in the car seat.
 
During his lunch break, he returned to his car, opening the driver's side door to put something inside, police said.
 
After work, around 4:16 p.m., the 33-year-old father got in his car and drove away. A few miles away, he stopped the car at a shopping center and called for help.
 
When it became clear Cooper was dead, Harris was so inconsolable police had to restrain him.
"What have I done?" he wailed as he tried to resuscitate the little boy.
 
Harris has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and second-degree child cruelty. He sits in jail without bond, with an appearance before a judge scheduled for July 3.
 
A wave of sympathy
 
Each year, dozens of children die from heat strokes in cars, according to KidsandCars.org. More than 40 died last year. The organization believes its tally is incomplete and much lower than the real toll.
 
When police charged Harris, it triggered a wave of sympathy and a vigorous debate over whether the heartbroken father should be punished.
 
A change.org petition that was started urging authorities to release Harris was withdrawn Thursday, with this note explaning: "I think that based on the recent developments this petition is no longer relevant. I still pray that this was truly an accident. If that is the case, the DA now knows that the community does not want Justin prosecuted on murder charges."
 
Atlanta area resident Erin Krans started a second change.org petition asking prosecutors to drop the charges. It has garnered hundreds of signatures and was still operational as of 8:30 p.m. Thursday.
 
Another, set up at YouCaring.com, has raised more than $22,000 for the Harris family.
 
"Please don't listen to the media. It just upsets me to watch it," wrote Heather McCullar, who set it up. "Please don't listen to the media. The family will speak when they can."
 
Contacted by CNN via e-mail, she wrote back, "No one is allowed to comment right now."
 
His wife's not talking
 
As Harris sits in jail, his wife, Leanna, would not discuss the case with the media. 
 
The child's cause of death was "consistent with hyperthermia and the investigative information suggests the manner of death is homicide," the Cobb County Medical Examiner's Office said, according to a Cobb County Department of Public Safety release issued Wednesday.
 
Temperatures hit 92 degrees Fahrenheit on the day of his death.
 
The medical examiner's office is waiting for toxicology test results before making an official ruling as to the cause and manner of the toddler's death.
 

 

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