Ross Harris – June 18, 2014
Akers Mill Square
Witnesses at the scene described Ross as hysterical and screaming, “What have I done, Oh my God, what have I done?” He told Stoddard that night that he immediately knew Cooper was dead based on his medical training: not breathing, no pulse, blank stare. He still attempted CPR, despite knowing that it was futile. At that point, his thoughts turned to the mother of their child. While pacing back and forth and intermittently crying out with his hand on his head, Ross tried to call the day care and Leanna, but wasn’t able to get through. He was still on the phone when Officer Piper asked for his I.D. Ross held up his index finger as if to say ‘hold on a second.’ At that point Officers Foglia and Gallimore came over. Foglia screamed at Ross. It’s unintelligible on the video, but she was probably ordering him to get off the phone. He took a step forward & responded, “Shut the fuck up and hold on, my son just died!” The police considered this a threat, so Ross was handcuffed, placed in the back of the police cruiser, and driven 100′ away from Cooper’s body.
Leonard Madden, eyewitness
Stoddard described CPR attempts at the 2014 probable cause hearing.
Boring: How did Anthony Pantano describe Ross’s behavior when they put the child on the pavement?
Stoddard: When they put Cooper on the pavement, Anthony said it looked like Ross was messing around. He goes, “We need to do CPR, we need to do something for the child.” Ross kind of looked at him and then he just stopped.
Boring: What did Anthony do?
Stoddard: Anthony started CPR.
However, Pantano’s trial testimony totally contradicted Stoddard’s. He did not describe Ross as “messing around.”
Boring: Had he, before you brought up CPR, had he done anything of that nature?
Pantano: No sir.
Boring: Did he attempt to do something?
Pantano: No sir.
Boring: At some point, do you remember him briefly trying to do CPR?
Pantano: Yes, after I asked him if he knew CPR and told him to focus, he had a done a couple of chest compressions and I believe he’d done one breath.
Kilgore: You told Detective Murphy that Ross laid him on the ground and Ross was frantic.
Pantano: My recollection was that he was frantic trying to unbuckle the seatbelt and we laid him down at that point.
Kilgore: Ok. You told Detective Murphy that Ross tried to do CPR for a minute or two, but just couldn’t focus. Does that sound right?
Pantano: That sounds accurate, yes sir.
Pantano’s later answers to Kilgore’s questions put it all into perspective.
Kilgore: This was a very frantic, intense couple of minutes?
Pantano: Yes sir.
Kilgore: So if you told Detective Murphy that Ross was emotional, that would fit the frantic nature of what was going on?
Pantano: Yes sir.
Kilgore: You told Detective Murphy that Ross kept saying, “I can’t believe I did this. I can’t believe I did this” and that’s what you remember?
Pantano: Yes sir.
Kilgore: Y’all weren’t carrying on much of a conversations?
Pantano: No, sir. We weren’t.
If Ross hesitated for an instant before starting CPR, it was due to profound shock. As he told Stoddard later that night, within seconds of discovering Cooper in the back seat, “I thought I was seeing things.”
Artiyka Eastland was at Akers Mill as well. She was interviewed at the scene and again in July, 2014. Both times she stated that Ross performed CPR on Cooper, and that he was frantic and screaming. Nothing unusual or suspicious about his words or actions. At trial, however, she told a very different story when questioned by Boring. She testified that Ross did not perform CPR, and his behavior “um, it was not made up, but as if it wasn’t sincere.” Eastland’s credibility was severely damaged on cross-exam.
Kilgore: Did you have an opportunity to listen to your interview with Detective Murphy on July 9, 2014?
Kilgore: You told him that you heard screaming and someone in a panic?
Eastland: Yes, I said that.
Kilgore: You told him that he put him on the ground and tried CPR?
Kilgore: You told Detective Murphy that the man was yelling for someone to call for help?
Eastland: I heard that on the video, yes.
Kilgore: He asked you specifically if anything seemed suspicious and you told him “nothing suspicious at all.”
Eastland: I did tell him that, yes.
Cuffed and Detained
At the probable cause hearing, Stoddard was questioned about Ross’s behavior in the back of the patrol car.
Boring: Have you reviewed the video?
Stoddard: I have.
Boring: Does the defendant show any emotion in the back of that patrol car?
His unequivocal “no” is astounding, because Ross actually exhibited extreme anguish and grief in the patrol car. More importantly, he expressed it when no one was around to hear him. He bows his head, sobbing loudly. “God, what have I done, what have I done, what have I done. Oh my God, Oh my God. My boy, my boy, oh my boy.” A few minutes later he can be heard sobbing again, shoulders quaking.
Fearful of damaging Stoddard’s credibility even more at trial, Boring didn’t ask a single question about Ross’s emotional state in Piper’s patrol car. But the defense did.
Kilgore: You didn’t see Ross’s emotional outburst in Piper’s vehicle, did you. He was screaming and wailing for some of the time he was in that car?
Stoddard: I didn’t see that at the scene.
Kilgore: But you know it happened, because you saw it on the video.
Stoddard: I did see something on the video, and it was him yelling and screaming. I don’t believe it’s an emotional outburst.
Kilgore: Objectively we see him yelling and screaming. You just don’t believe it’s the truth?
Stoddard: Or sincere, correct.
Kilgore: So if he had cried more or harder, would that make it more sincere to you?
Stoddard: If I saw evidence like tears coming out of your eyes. When we cry, our nose starts to run. If I saw evidence of that, or anything on his shirt, then yes, I’d be more likely to believe that an actual outburst had occurred.
Stoddard apparently believes that grief and shock isn’t genuine unless you have a runny nose and wet shirt. That’s a subjective and erroneous misconception. People in shock often do not cry actual tears until later, when reality sets in. Ross had experienced a massive double shock in a matter of minutes. Before he could even deal with the trauma of his son’s death, he was handcuffed and put in the back of a police car.
Stoddard briefly questioned Ross in Piper’s vehicle, and told him that he was being detained.
Kilgore: At that time, he wasn’t wailing and screaming. He was under control?
Kilgore: If Ross wanted to put on some kind of a show in front of you to demonstrate crocodile tears or fake remorse, that would have been a good opportunity for him to do it right there, when the lead detective introduces himself.
Stoddard: Yes sir.
Kilgore: He didn’t do it, did he.
Kilgore: What we see in the video is a period of time of him wailing and hollering out when nobody’s in the car with him, nobody’s standing out side the car right around him, correct?
Ross’s reactions were consistent in that he managed to compose himself when speaking to the police, but broke down completely when alone or with his wife. This reaction is extremely common. Most civilians faced with a police officer, paramedic, or doctor manage to pull themselves together long enough to speak with those in uniform. I personally find such a reaction perfectly normal under the circumstances.The lead detective did not.
Piper was questioned about whether Ross went back to Cooper before he was arrested.
Boring: Did you ever see the defendant try to go back over to the child, get to the child, fight to get to the child?
She was asked a similar question on cross.
Kilgore: You think he should have been screaming more?
Piper: I think it’s unusual that he was not with his son.
What she didn’t see was that Ross did try to get back to Cooper. Piper didn’t witness it, because she arrived after it occurred. Officers Foglia and Gallimore were the first to arrive on the scene, within seconds of Ross pulling in.
Evans: What did you and Gallimore do?
Foglia: Gallimore started doing compressions and then I was trying to open Cooper’s mouth to start breaths.
Evans: Were you able to do that?
Foglia: We were not. His mouth was wired shut, for lack of a better term, because of rigor, stiffness of the body after death. Gallimore yelled up to the crowd, “Is he choking?” That’s when Mr. Harris came to Cooper’s side. I shooed him away, because I didn’t know who he was at that point. I think that’s when Officer Piper arrived.
Putting on a Show
Despite all the witnesses who described Ross as frantic, hysterical, screaming, and asking for help, Officer Gallimore testified that it was really just an act.
Boring: How did you describe it in your police report?
Gallimore: I wrote that he was acting hysterical and acting upset.
Boring: What do you mean by that?
Gallimore: When I say he was acting hysterical I meant he was “acting” hysterical. Not genuine, but acting.
On cross, Kilgore read excerpts from Gallimore’s report.
Kilgore: Will you tell the jury how you described the demeanor of that man?
Gallimore: I wrote that he was acting hysterical and extremely upset.
Kilgore: Show me where in your report you make any suggestion that he was acting or putting on some sort of performance to be hysterical or extremely upset.
Gallimore: Well, I just put on there that he’s acting hysterical & extremely upset. That’s actually why I put acting.
Kilgore: Read the next sentence please.
Gallimore: “The father, Justin Harris, was still extremely upset and was not listening to officers when told to move back & provide his information.”
Gallimore’s June 19th report was very detailed. He even noted how many compressions he did on Cooper. If he intended to convey that Ross was acting, then why did he leave that word out when he wrote “The father, Justin Harris, was still extremely upset…”? That sentence alone soundly discredits Gallimore’s testimony.
Damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t
After Ross was cuffed, arrested, and put in the cruiser, Piper drove her car 100′ away, so that Cooper’s body was behind them. She then left the car. Initially, Ross stared out the front window. He then turned his body around to look through the rear window where Cooper’s body lay. Stoddard agreed with Kilgore that someone who has discovered their child that way could be in shock, dazed, and showing a range out emotions from outrage to just blankness. But he still thought it was suspicious that Ross was looking out the rear window.
Kilgore: Well, isn’t that a natural reaction if you are driven away from the scene where your child is deceased, to turn around and see what was going on?
Kilgore: Wouldn’t it have been more remarkable if he looked forward and never turned around?
Stoddard: No, I don’t think so.
Kilgore: So moments after he discovered the deceased body of his child, he’s cuffed, driven from the scene, you think it would have been a more normal response for him to just sit there looking forward rather than turning around, trying to see what was going on?
Stoddard: I do, because if he’s in shock, just had a major emotional moment, the death of your child, I think a catonic (sic) state where you’re sitting there, just staring ahead, would be normal.
Kilgore: Ok, so he should have been staring straight ahead?
Stoddard: I’m saying – I’m not going to comment, sorry. I’m done, sir.
Sounds like somebody painted himself into a corner with his responses to that line of questioning.
Piper and Stoddard both found it strange that Ross used phonetics to spell out names and addresses. Boring even questioned Stoddard about this at the July hearing.
Boring: Did he use cop language with you?
Stoddard: He did. He would sit there and he’d say like alpha, bravo. Everything would be spelled out phonetically.
Evidently, they believed Ross’s phonetic spelling was designed to buddy up to law enforcement in order to get away with murder.
Boring: Anything out of the ordinary about the way he answered when you asked for his address?
Piper: It was strange. You really don’t see this a lot unless you’re talking on a police radio or to a dispatcher, but he used phonetics. For ‘a’ you might use alpha, ‘b’ for ‘bravo’ and so on. He used phonetics to spell out his name and street, which I thought was unusual because most people don’t do that.
Most people don’t do that because most people haven’t been dispatchers. Ross was the exception.
Kilgore: You now know that Ross has experience working as a police dispatcher.
Piper: Yes, I heard that after the fact.
Kilgore: But when you first heard it, you kind of jumped to a conclusion that there was something odd or strange about it.*
Piper: Yes, it was odd.
Ross was employed as a dispatcher for several years with the Tuscaloosa Police Department before returning to college to pursue his degree. The old habit of spelling names and addresses phonetically kicked in when he was interacting with law enforcement on June 18th. Nothing sinister about that.
* Piper also assumed, and testified twice, that Ross was left-handed, because he held the phone to his left ear. In fact, Ross was right-handed. He held the phone to his left ear because he was deaf in his right ear, the result of a fireworks explosion on New Year’s Eve in 2005. Incidentally, while being questioned that evening, Ross responded “no” when Stoddard asked if he had any medical conditions. Seems to me that someone trying to make murder look like an accident would have made sure Stoddard knew about a hearing problem.
Cobb County Police Department
Ross was transported to headquarters and left in a room by himself, where he was observed through a two-way mirror. The video runs from 10:00 to 27:00. It depicts Ross holding his hands to his face crying “What was I thinking?” He lays his head on the desk repeatedly and sobs loudly, “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.” He lays his head down on the desk again and breathes heavily, as if he can’t catch his breath. Wipes his nose and then sobs again, “I’m so sorry. My boy. Oh God, Oh God.” He stops intermittently to drink from a water bottle, and then breaks down again sobbing, “I’m so sorry. My boy. Oh God, Oh my God.”
10:00 to 27:00
And yet, this is how Stoddard described Ross’s demeanor in July 2014: “His demeanor would fluctuate. He started off trying to work himself up and we’re watching on the camera. It looked like he was trying to hyperventilate himself…no tears, no real emotion coming out of him except for, ya know, the huffing, I would call it.”
Putting on a Show, Part 2
Wesley Houston was on duty in the Treehouse lobby when Ross badged out at 4:16 on June 18th. He claimed that Ross made a big production as he exited the lobby, telling Houston that he was going to the movies with Winston “Mullins.”
Treadaway: What occurred, if anything?
Houston: After going through the turnstile I said, “Have a great evening.” And he said, “You, too” or something like that and he was going to the movies.
Treadaway: Did the defendant mention the name of the person he was going to the movies with?
Houston: Yes, Winston, I think it was. Last name Mullins, I definitely remember Mullins.
Treadaway: Had the defendant ever told you about any of his personal activities before that day?
Houston: None whatsoever.
Treadaway: Did that get your attention?
Houston: That did.
Houston piled it on even thicker during cross-exam.
“It caught my attention, because he’d never done that before. It was like a public service announcement. You don’t advertise something like that.”
None of it was true. Stoddard had recorded the 2014 interview with Wesley Houston, leaving him no wiggle room.
Kilgore: Wesley Houston never told you that Ross told him he was going to a movie?
Kilgore: He never told you that Ross said he was meeting Winston Milling?
Kilgore: He never described Ross’s statement to him as like “making a public service announcement” when he was leaving?
Kilgore: What you learned was that Leanna had come to the Treehouse a bit later and she had notified Houston that “my husband’s name is Ross and he was going to a movie with Winston Mulllins, I think.”
The basic function and most important job of a prosecutor is to seek the truth. Incredibly, in this case, the prosecution knew that Houston was lying, and put him on the stand anyway.
Putting on a Show, Part 3
Chris Redmon was the general manager of the Vinings Chick-fil-A in 2014. He knew Ross as a regular customer, but June 18th was the first time he recalled seeing Cooper.
Treadaway: What do you remember of your interaction with the defendant and Cooper on the morning of June 18th?
Redmon: I was bringing ice to the front counter in the drive-thru and I saw Mr. Harris and Cooper and I just said, “Hey, good morning, guys.” And I said, “Who’s this little guy?” and it was Cooper, so I waved & said, “Hey, Coop!” Just small pleasantries for 30 seconds and then they went to sit down.
Additionally, in his 2014 interview with Stoddard, Redmon said he observed a father and son who were enjoying spending time together.
Jesse Evans, however, described the interaction much differently in a January 2017 Dateline episode. A video of Ross and Cooper at the Chick-fil-A counter was shown. Andrea Canning remarked, “Nothing really seems out of the ordinary. I mean, this looks like a father and son grabbing breakfast.” Predictably, Jesse Evans disagreed: “I would say completely the contrary. I thought it seemed very out of the ordinary. In particular, the way he was introducing Cooper to some of the workers there, and how they eventually described it to us as being almost like he was putting on a show.”
Coincidentally or not, the prosecutor and two of of his witnesses were certainly partial to the “putting on a show” phrase. Wesley Houston and Brett Gallimore were soundly discredited at trial, but what do we make of Evans’ comment after the trial? If he had Chick-fil-A employees who claimed that Ross was putting on a show, why didn’t he put them on the stand?
Leanna Harris – June 18, 2014
One of Stoddard’s earliest theories was that Ross and his wife conspired to murder their only child. In an October 2015 pre-trial hearing, Stoddard revealed that on the morning of June18th, Ross had responded to a Whisper post from a frazzled wife/mother who felt she had no time to herself. Ross’s response indicated that he was trying to empathize with her: “I miss having time to myself and going out with friends.”
Kilgore: You’re saying that it’s motive because he wanted to meet with his friends?
Stoddard: Yes sir.
Kilgore: But at the same time saying maybe she was involved?
Stoddard: Why not? Would it be more likely he’d talk to his wife and get her thinking a certain way before he did the crime?
Stoddard’s theory defies all logic. Why on earth would Leanna conspire to murder her only child so that Ross could go out with friends and continue cheating on her?
Little Apron Academy
Leanna arrived at the day care between 4:30 and 5 pm. Michelle Gray’s trial testimony describes Leanna’s reaction.
Gray: I saw her walking toward the classroom and I thought to myself well, that’s weird. It’s Cooper’s mom.
Boring: Did you tell her anything?
Gray: I told her, I was like what are you doing here? Cooper’s not here.
Boring: What was her demeanor?
Gray: She was confused. She looked frantic.
Confused and frantic. Compare that to Stoddard’s testimony at the probable cause hearing: “Michelle asked Leanna what she was doing there and Leanna said she was there to pick up Cooper. Michelle told her that Ross had never dropped Cooper off. And she’s like, she just got really calm.”
Michelle Gray’s testimony contradicts Stoddard’s, but it is entirely consistent with Leanna’s: “I kind of went into a panic. I left the room, ran to the front desk and said to Terrell, ‘They’re telling me that Cooper wasn’t checked in today. Where is Cooper? I can’t find Cooper!’ ”
“Ross must have left him in the car”
True to form, Stoddard considered another one of Leanna’s reactions suspicious, as evidenced by his testimony at the probable cause hearing.
Boring: When she showed up, according to witnesses at the day care, did she make any comments that seemed out of the ordinary?
Stoddard: She did. In front of several witnesses, all of a sudden she states, “Ross must have left him in the car” and they’re like “What??” And she’s like, ‘There’s no other explanation. Ross must have left him in the car.” They tried to console her & they’re like “No, there’s a thousand explanations. He could have taken him to lunch or something. We don’t know yet.” And she’s like, “NO.”
Stoddard’s emphasis on the word “NO”, as well as his description of Leanna’s reaction as “calm” were to suggest that Leanna dismissed any plausible explanation for Cooper’s disappearance because she already knew that Ross had left him in the car. She knew because, as Stoddard’s theory proposed, they’d planned his murder in advance!
Had Stoddard not jumped to conclusions, he would have discovered two perfectly logical explanations for Leanna’s comment. 1) In addition to thinking that Ross might have left Cooper in the car, she also considered the possibility that Ross may have accidentally left Cooper at home that day. Joey Nesbitt, a neighbor who had a key to their house, testified that Leanna called her and asked her to check their condo to see if he was there and 2) Ross had texted Leanna at 3:16 that afternoon, asking “When you getting my buddy?” Leanna knew from the daycare’s register that Cooper had never been checked in that day. She also knew, from the 3:16 pm text and a subsequent phone call with her husband, that Ross hadn’t picked Cooper up early. Where else could he be?
Joey Nesbitt 10:27
Ross’s phone was seized by the police at the scene, and a search warrant for that phone was obtained the same day. When questioned by Boring at the July 3rd probable cause hearing, Stoddard testified in graphic detail about the June 18th sexts and photos on Ross’s phone, but denied any text messages between Ross and Leanna on the very same day.
Boring: Did the defendant ever mention getting a text from his wife that afternoon?
Boring: Does his phone reflect anything about texts from his wife?
Kilgore: Have you seen the text Ross sent Leanna at 3:16 pm that day?
Kilgore: You’ve had his phone, but you haven’t seen that?
Stoddard: No. The last actual text message was back in May.
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to believe that Stoddard missed all those texts between Ross and Leanna on the very day their son died. The following testimony is from the trial:
Kilgore: What did you specifically text to Ross that morning?
Leanna: (reading from report) “Get to work ok?” And he responded, “Yup, yup.” Then he said, “We’re going to the early movie so I should be home close to seven.” An hour and a half later I responded, “Ok.” At 3:16 he asked me “when you getting my buddy?” I texted back about forty-five minutes later and said, “Call me. Are you not going home first?” I think that’s when we had the phone conversation about who would be the best person to pick up Cooper that day. It was decided that I would pick him up.
From Hot to Not
Terrell Dudley drove Leanna to the Treehouse to look for Ross’s car. Unable to locate it in the parking lot, they went into the lobby and spoke to Wesley Houston.
Treadaway: Did you notice what Mrs. Harris was doing when you and Mr. Dudley were working at the computer station, looking at the records?
Houston: She was sitting down at that point, like she was just cold, like she had…when she walked in she had emotion.. as time passed on, emotions faded away as she was sitting there.
Treadaway: Did that ever change during the time you observed her that afternoon?
Houston: Her emotions changed drastically, because when she first came in she had a whole lot of steam & as time went on her emotions died out. It was like “ Hmmm, oh well.” She was just sitting there like nothing happened…she was just cold.
Leanna described it this way: “Terrell and the guy who was there (Wesley Houston) were behind the desk trying to figure out when Winston left, I think. At one point, I saw them watching the TV, but I didn’t see what was on the TV. I said, ‘What’s going on?’ and Terrell said ‘Nothing.’ He turned off the TV or switched channels, I’m not sure which. One of the day care workers called and said, ‘Leanna, I think it’s time to call the police.’ Just then my phone rang and it was a detective. He told me to stay where I was, that they would come to the Treehouse. I said, ‘Will you please just tell me what’s wrong?’ and they said ‘No, we’ll talk when we get there.’ I said, ‘It’s bad, isn’t it.’ and he said ‘Yes, it’s bad.’ I sat on the couch and started to go numb. It felt like I wasn’t in my own body. Terrell sat next to me and I knew he knew something. He said, ‘Do you want to know?’ I said, ‘What does it matter if you tell me or guys I don’t know tell me?’ Terrell said, ‘All I know is they said a child died and it was Ross’s car on the news.’ I kept thinking I was going to wake up, this can’t be real.”
On cross-exam, Houston described Leanna’s demeanor as “going from hot to not…she seemed very under control, she didn’t do anything.”
A reasonable conclusion is that Leanna went from hot to not after she spoke to the detective and Terrell Dudley, and started putting 2 and 2 together. That was when she became numb, an emotion related to shock and disbelief. But Wesley Houston didn’t see it that way. He thought she should have been screaming and crying, because that’s how he thought a woman should react. He believed this even though he didn’t know Leanna personally. He didn’t know that she’s a very reserved person by nature, not one to scream and wail, or throw herself on the ground in a fit of agony. She puts those emotions aside until she’s alone or with loved ones.
Angie Bond had this to say about her best friend. “I was at the probable cause hearing with her and as soon as we left the courtroom, in the elevator, she just fell apart. She is very much a private person, doesn’t like to be the center of attention. When she’s by herself or with close family and friends, that’s when she allows herself to feel, to fall apart, and she did a lot of that those two weeks when I was with her.”
Did You Say Too Much?
Leanna was taken from the Treehouse to the Cobb County Police Department for further questioning. When that was concluded, they allowed her to see Ross. The minute he saw Leanna, he broke down completely, sobbing so loud and hard that he could barely catch his breath. “I just want to die…I’m so sorry…I loved him so much…oh, my boy, my boy…I’m never going to see my boy again..how are you going to make it, I’m so worried about you.”
Stoddard described it this way at the probable cause hearing: “It was all about him. ‘I can’t believe this is happening to me. Why am I being punished for this.’ It was all very one-sided.”
More testimony from the probable cause hearing.
Boring: Did his wife ever say anything to him about what he said to police?
Stoddard: She had him sit down and he starts going through this. She looks at him and she’s like, “Well, did you say too much?”
Needless to say, her question fed right into Stoddard’s preposterous theory that Ross and Leanna conspired to murder Cooper. The media went wild, and even more of the public turned against the parents. But really, it was just one more example of Stoddard’s unending confirmation bias. He formed an opinion of guilt right off the bat, and then interpreted everything Ross and Leanna said or did in a way that would support his theory.
Leanna explained at trial why she asked Ross that question.
Kilgore: We’ve seen the recording already and among the many things that were said, do you recall that as you were sitting face-to-face, you said something to the effect of ‘did you say too much?’
Leanna: I do. It’s one of the things that stands out more. I know how Ross responds to people, especially people that he doesn’t know. He talks a lot, even if he doesn’t have a thing to say. And I couldn’t understand what was happening. I didn’t understand why he was being charged. I didn’t understand the actions that were being taken. The only thing I could think in my head was what did you SAY? And so those words came out.
I think the key here is, “I didn’t understand why he was being charged.” Leanna knew how much Ross loved Cooper. She’d seen it first-hand, day in and day out, from the moment their son was born. Because of that, she never doubted for an instant that it was accident. Her thought process may have been, “What could you have possibly said that would cause them to think it was murder rather than an accident?”