Breakfast at Chick-fil-A
After breakfast, Ross buckled Cooper into his rear-facing car seat, which was situated in the back seat of his Hyundai Tucson. He followed the access road out of Chick-fil-A and then made a u-turn onto Cumberland Parkway. A left turn at the light onto Paces Ferry Road would have taken him to Little Apron Academy. Instead, he continued straight on Cumberland Parkway and drove to his office, a little over a half mile from Chick-fil-A. Ross pulled into the Treehouse parking lot at 9:27 a.m.
There’s no question that Cooper was awake when Ross buckled him into his carseat.* He freely acknowledged that fact in his interview later that night. When Stoddard asked him to recount his day, Ross responded at one point, “I probably didn’t even hear him, because he falls asleep really easily when you drive the car.”
This is how the detective described the above exchange at the July 3rd probable cause hearing.
Boring: Did you ask the defendant how this could have occurred?
Stoddard: Yes, I did. His excuse was that he fell asleep.
Probable Cause Hearing, Part 1
Probable Cause Hearing, Part 2
Probable Cause Hearing, Part 3
Stoddard’s choice of the word “excuse” is troubling for two reasons. First, it suggests a strong bias against Ross Harris within hours of Cooper’s death. Secondly, Cooper did, in fact, fall asleep very quickly in the car. This was supported by testimony from multiple witnesses, including Cooper’s mother. Videos at trial showed Cooper falling asleep with a grilled cheese sandwich in his mouth. As any parent knows, little ones can conk out in an instant in a moving car.
To counter this inconvenient truth, the prosecution repeatedly referred to Cooper as “sleeping in” that morning, but they were misstating the testimony. Cooper actually woke up unusually early that day, at 5:15 a.m. He and Ross sat in bed together and watched a children’s show. He was still awake when Leanna left for work at 7:15. Cooper did eventually go back to sleep. It couldn’t have been for long, though, because Ross still had to dress him and get him in his car seat before leaving the house at 8:30. In short, Cooper could have easily fallen asleep, on a full stomach, after leaving the restaurant.
At this same hearing, Stoddard was asked how long it takes to get from Chick-fil-A to the light at Paces Ferry Road.
Boring: From the time he left the Chick- Fil-A to that light where he had to make the decision [to turn left or go straight] have you driven that distance?
Stoddard: I have.
Boring: How many times?
Stoddard: Ten at least.
Boring: How long does it take to get from having left the Chick-fil-A parking lot to that light?
Stoddard: 30 to 40 seconds.
Boring: So 30-40 seconds from the time he has strapped his child in, kissed him, and then he says he forgot?
It’s curious that Stoddard could have driven that route 10 plus times, and still get it so wrong. It’s not 30-40 seconds to the light. It’s 30-40 seconds to the u-turn, and then a couple more minutes to the light at Paces Ferry Road. The prosecution knew this, and reworded the question at trial to appear less damaging to Stoddard’s credibility.
Boring: Generally, how long is it, once you leave the Chick-fil-A and pull out onto Cumberland to make that u-turn and have to decide?
Stoddard: 30,40 seconds.
This may appear to be an insignificant point. Does it really matter if it took Ross 40 seconds or two minutes to reach the light? No. I mention it because it’s a part of a much larger pattern in this case: the tendency to minimize or exaggerate evidence to fit a preconceived notion.
The Three-Point Turn
Boring asked Stoddard at the probable cause hearing to describe how Ross entered his parking space that morning Stoddard responded, “He pulls past a space and then goes into reverse and then backs up in between two cars that were parked in the row behind him. He then pulls forward into the parking space.” At the close of this hearing, Boring told Judge Cox that Ross would have had to turn around in order to back up in between those two cars. The implication was clear: Ross had to turn around and, in doing so, he would have seen Cooper in the back seat.
But that is not true. Ross didn’t have to turn around, because he did not back up in between two cars. He backed up only a short distance and, in all likelihood, used the side mirrors.
Rodriguez: Mr. Sanders, did you notice how the vehicle did not actually pull all the way into this space between the two cars?
Sanders: It backs up to the rear quarter panel, almost to where the glass is at, stops and then pulls forward.
Rodriguez: And there’s some distance between this vehicle here and the back of Ross’s vehicle?
Sanders: I’d guess there’s some distance between them.
Ross parked his vehicle under a tree that provided shade off and on until 1 p.m., after which it was in and out of direct sunshine. The defense questioned Ross’s co-worker, Regina Malloy, about this at trial.
Lumpkin: There’s a whole tree line surrounding the parking lot that you can back into and no one else can get to, correct?
Malloy: Yes sir.
Lumpkin: How about all these spots in the back here (pointing to the north side of the building by the tree line, the furthest from the Treehouse)
Malloy: For the most part they’re empty.
Lumpkin: No sidewalk back here?
Malloy: No, just trees and woods.
Lumpkin: And these spaces behind the spot where Ross parked his car, they’re also along the wood line?
Malloy: Yes sir.
The lead detective was also questioned regarding the illogical spot in which Ross parked his vehicle.
Kilgore: You’d agree that if Ross were inclined to park his car where nobody was going to walk behind it, and nobody was going to be able to look into the back window straight onto a rear-facing car seat, you’d agree that Ross could have just as easily backed into one of the wood line spots.
Stoddard: When the defendant pulls up, he backs up between two cars. So he does come back & he could have kept going to the wood line, but he chose to drive forward.
Kilgore: You’d agree with what I’m saying, though. If he were inclined to put his car in a place where nobody could walk behind it, he had the opportunity to do that and park in one of these spaces [in front of tree line].
Stoddard: He did.
Kilgore: He didn’t do that, did he.
Stoddard: No, he pulled forward after backing up.
And, indeed, multiple people walked right by Ross’s vehicle throughout the day. His parking spot – under a tree and in full view of people coming and going – was so inconsistent with a plan to murder his child that Kilgore addressed it again during cross-examination.
Kilgore: At 9:31 a.m, six minutes after Ross got out of his car, a lady approached from the back side of Ross’s vehicle and walked right by his driver’s side door. There’s people still coming into work at this time of the morning, right?
At 9:39 a.m, a person approaches from the right and walks behind Ross’s car.
At 9:44, a man walks by the back of Ross’s car and then past the driver’s side door.
At 10:08, a man stops by the rear quarter panel of Ross’s car for several seconds and then walks on.
This scene basically repeated itself at 10:21, 11:06, 11:17, 11:24 a.m. and throughout the afternoon of June 18.
Stoddard 57:00 to end of Part 2. Concludes at 12:00 on Day 14, Part 3
Kilgore: Would you agree that those people might be in a position to hear something, any noise, coming from the car?
Stoddard: I think that calls for too much speculation. With the car being completely closed, I don’t know what they could have heard.
Kilgore: What about the guy standing directly behind the car with nothing but the windshield between him and the inside of the car?
Stoddard: I don’t know if he had a hearing disability. I don’t know if he was concentrating on something else. I can’t speculate.
Is it possible that Cooper was making noise that couldn’t be heard outside the car? Sure. But Ross wouldn’t know or be able to predict that. What Ross did know was that Cooper could scream when the spirit moved him, and told Stoddard exactly that when he was interrogated on June 18th (Q. Could Cooper talk? A. Yes. Knows my real name, not even two years old, screams it at me.) If Ross’s plan was to leave Cooper in the car long enough to cause death by hyperthermia, he wouldn’t risk someone seeing or hearing Cooper before that could happen. It simply makes no sense.
Videos of Cooper 3:40
Using parking lot videos, detectives timed exactly how long Ross sat in his car before exiting it that morning. They concluded that It was around thirty seconds. This was evidently too long (i.e. suspicious), because it was brought up at the probable cause hearing.
Boring: So after he parks, how long did he sit in the car before he exits to go in the building?
Stoddard: Around 30 seconds from the time he parks the vehicle until he gets out and shuts the door.
Boring: So he’s sitting in there 30 seconds?
Stoddard: Yes sir.
Those videos were eventually turned over to the defense during discovery. Lo and behold, they found that on June 3, 2014 the same thing happened. It took Ross 30 seconds to exit the car on that day, too.
Kilgore: I want to direct your attention to June 3rd, 2014. This was just two weeks earlier. I want to call your attention to Ross’s car to see how long it takes him to get out of the car two weeks earlier. Now, you actually had a detective look at this footage and time each and every time Ross got out of his car in those weeks preceding June 18, right?
Stoddard: We did.
Kilgore: So you’re aware that it took him 30 seconds, once he parked, to get his stuff together, open the door, get his stuff out & close the door.
Stoddard: Yes sir.
Kilgore: So you don’t disagree that weeks earlier it also took him 30 seconds?
Stoddard: No, but you do agree that on the 18th it took 30 seconds, correct? Is that what you said? I’m sorry.
Kilgore: Yeah, we saw that yesterday.
Stoddard: Right, so it did take him 30 seconds, and I agree that it took him 30 seconds here to close the door.
Kilgore: Bottom line being, sometimes it takes us a little longer to get our stuff together and get out and get the door closed.
Stoddard: Most assuredly.
Kilgore: And within a two-weeks span, we have two days when it happened to take him 30 seconds.
Stoddard: Yes sir.
According to Stoddard’s own words, detectives went over all those videos with a fine-tooth comb. If so, how could they have missed the June 3rd video?
* Ross also told Stoddard that after he buckled Cooper into his car seat, he gave him a kiss and got one in return. Ross asked, “Are you ready to go to school?” and his little boy responded, “Cool.” If Ross Harris’s intention was to pass this off as an accident, he could have told Stoddard that Cooper was already falling asleep as he put him in his car seat. It makes no sense for Ross to admit interacting with a wide-awake Cooper unless it was the truth.