As son was dy­ing in hot car, man sent teenager sex texts

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OBITUARIES - By Russ Bynum

A Ge­or­gia man swapped sex­ual text mes­sages with a teenage girl while his tod­dler son sat dy­ing in the back seat of the fa­ther’s swel­ter­ing SUV, his young tex­ting part­ner tes­ti­fied in court Fri­day.

Ju­rors at the trial of Justin Ross Har­ris also watched po­lice video Fri­day of Har­ris just a few hours af­ter his 22-mon­thold son, Cooper, died. In a po­lice in­ter­ro­ga­tion room, Har­ris and his wife dis­cuss hav­ing more chil­dren. Be­fore that, Har­ris tells de­tec­tives: “I’m a great fa­ther.”

Har­ris, 35, is charged with mur­der in the lit­tle boy’s death. He’s also charged with send­ing graphic, sex­ual text mes­sages and pho­tos of his pe­nis to a girl for a pe­riod of sev­eral months when she was 16 and 17.

That young woman, now 19, tes­ti­fied Fri­day she met Har­ris on­line in the fall of 2013 when he re­sponded to a com­ment she posted on the app Whis­per stat­ing she wanted a sex­ual re­la­tion­ship like the one in the erotic novel “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

“When it started, it was strictly sex­ual,” the wit­ness said of her re­la­tion­ship with Har­ris. “Then at times it would be like a nor­mal con­ver­sa­tion.”

They never met in per­son, but Har­ris knew her age and that she was in high school, the young woman tes­ti­fied. She sent him one of her prom pho­tos, she said, and would tell him about her ef­forts to choose a col­lege.

In a tran­script of their text mes­sages that the young woman read in court, Har­ris once asked for a photo of her breasts and she replied: “I’m at school.”

They also dis­cussed sex acts they wanted to per­form to­gether, and Har­ris would send her pho­tos of his pe­nis. A pros­e­cu­tor showed four pho­tos to the jury. She said he asked her to send him pho­tos of her gen­i­tals “count­less” times, but she never did.

“There wasn’t any pres­sure ap­plied to you to par­tic­i­pate in this, is that fair to say?” de­fense at­tor­ney Mad­dox Kil­gore asked the young woman. “Yes,” she replied. Pros­e­cu­tor Chuck Bor­ing noted that Ge­or­gia law makes the girl’s con­sent ir­rel­e­vant be­cause she was a mi­nor.

The As­so­ci­ated Press doesn’t iden­tify vic­tims of sex crimes and isn’t iden­ti­fy­ing the young woman, who was un­der­age when the ex­plicit mes­sages were sent. The judge also has barred news or­ga­ni­za­tions from broad­cast­ing her voice and like­ness to pro­tect her iden­tity.

Pros­e­cu­tors say Har­ris, who had moved to metro At­lanta from Alabama in 2012, killed his young son in­ten­tion­ally be­cause he wanted to es­cape the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of be­ing a hus­band and fa­ther. Sev­eral women have tes­ti­fied to hav­ing sex­ual re­la­tion­ships with Har­ris, on­line and in per­son, while he was mar­ried.

Au­thor­i­ties say Har­ris’ son died June 18, 2014, af­ter be­ing left in his car seat for about seven hours while Har­ris was at his job as a web de­vel­oper for Home De­pot. Har­ris had taken his son to eat break­fast that morn­ing. His de­fense at­tor­neys called the death a tragic ac­ci­dent, say­ing Har­ris for­got to drop Cooper off at day­care and drove straight to work.

That day, Har­ris was tex­ting the teenage girl from his work­place, ac­cord­ing to tran­scripts read in court Fri­day. At about 2 p.m., he asked for a photo of her breasts.

“I’m su­per sun­burned,” the wit­ness read from the tran­script, say­ing she sent a photo re­gard­less. Har­ris replied: “Yummy.” Hours later, af­ter Har­ris pulled his dead son from his SUV, he was taken to Cobb County po­lice head­quar­ters. Ju­rors saw video Fri­day of Har­ris sob­bing as he waited to speak with de­tec­tives.

“I’m so sorry, Cooper!” he bawled.

Har­ris ap­pears more com­posed as he talks with de­tec­tives. He calmly de­bates with them af­ter be­ing told he will be charged with child cru­elty, a felony.

“It was com­pletely un­in­ten­tional,” Har­ris says. “I’ve no his­tory of child abuse. I’ve no his­tory of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence . ... I’m a great fa­ther.”

That evening, po­lice recorded Har­ris in the same in­ter­view room with his wife, Leanna. It’s their first meet­ing since their son died. She tries to com­fort Har­ris as he weeps.

Near the end of the 40-minute video, she asks Har­ris if he will be will­ing to have more chil­dren.

“I want to have a fam­ily,” Har­ris says, be­fore adding, “I’m just go­ing to miss him.”

Har­ris’ wife was granted a di­vorce ear­lier this year.

Har­ris’ trial was moved from Cobb County in the At­lanta sub­urbs, to the coastal port city of Bruns­wick be­cause of pre­trial pub­lic­ity. The judge told ju­rors Fri­day she ex­pects the trial, which be­gan Oct. 3, to last three to four more weeks.


Justin Ross Har­ris, left, lis­tens to jury se­lec­tion dur­ing his mur­der trial at the Glynn County Court­house in Bruns­wick, Ga. Har­ris, 34, is charged with mur­der in the death of his 22-month-old son, Cooper.

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