BRUNSWICK — The Cobb County police didn’t tell the truth about Ross Harris and his role in his son’s death, Harris’ attorney told the jury during his closing argument Monday. On the contrary, the prosecutor said during his closing: it’s all true — Harris is an insatiable philanderer who jettisoned his little boy to clear the way for his sordid pursuits.
The jury in the long-running hot-car murder case is expected to begin deliberations on Tuesday. Harris is charged with eight counts for leaving his 22-month-old son, Cooper, to die in a hot SUV in June 2014. The 12 jurors and four alternates sat through more than four hours of summations Monday in which each side derided the other and argued that its version of events is demonstrably true.
“You have been misled throughout this entire trial,” said lead defense attorney Maddox Kilgore said.
“This defendant thought he was going to get away with this manner of murder because he thought he was smarter than everybody else,” said lead prosecutor Chuck Boring said.
Nearly two months after jury selection began, the six-man, six-woman panel of Glynn County residents is now tasked with settling a debate that’s lingered for more than two years: Did Harris intend to kill son, or was it merely a horrible accident?
Each side offered a persuasive case Monday, infusing their summations with the kind of passion that demonstrates the depth of their investment. Similarly, holes exist in both arguments.
Kilgore went after the heart of the prosecution’s case, attacking its central thesis and the investigative work that informed it.
Harris was not, as alleged by the state, motivated by a desire to lead a child-free life, he said.
“Ross was already doing whatever he wanted to do,” Kilgore said.
But the delicate balancing act between family man and cheating spouse was becoming increasingly difficult for Harris to manage, Boring said. He didn’t get a job he had interviewed for with Chick-fil-A; his then-wife, Leanna, was pressuring him to spend more time with her and Cooper; and a young woman to whom he professed his love had stopped responding to his plaintive texts.
“He told this other person he couldn’t live the life he wanted,” lead prosecutor Chuck Boring said. “His wife complained about his going out. … He wanted to go out with other people and most importantly, 10 minutes before he killed Cooper, he actually said that he needed an escape.”
'When do we get real emotion from this man?'
Boring quoted and then repeated a comment that Harris posted online 10 minutes before he left Cooper locked in his Hyundai Tucson: “I love my son and all but we both need escapes."
The prosecution in criminal cases has the right to begin closing arguments and also to conclude them. So Boring spoke for a little more than an hour this morning; Kilgore followed with a two-hour argument; and Boring wrapped up with what was effectively a one-hour rebuttal.
Police first knew something was amiss when they observed that only three inches separated Cooper’s car seat and Harris, Boring said.
The former web developer’s behavior following his arrest only heightened their suspicions, according to the prosecutor.
“When do we get real emotion from this man? When he’s been arrested, and he knew the jig was up,” Boring said.
This case has been about little more than “demeanor and dirt,” Kilgore said.
'The cockamamie story you'd have to buy'
Because of her placid demeanor after learning of Cooper’s death, Harris’ former wife, Leanna Taylor, was also a suspect despite what would have to be an “absolutely ludicrous” motive, Kilgore said.
“Leanna is going to assist Ross in murdering their little boy so he can free himself from a marriage to her,” he said. “If Leanna’s been a suspect for two years, that’s the cockamamie story you’d have to buy.”
Referencing discrepancies in police testimony that persisted for more than two years. Kilgore asserted that investigators shaped their theories to fit a conclusion reached with scant evidence.
Everything Harris did and said was suspicious on the day his son died, Kilgore said.
“He screamed too loud at the scene. He didn’t cry in front of us,” he said.
“The Cobb police made a decision right there on the scene,” he said. “There was never, ever a consideration that this was an accident.”
Boring dismissed discrepancies in law enforcement’s account of the evidence as minor misstatements. The prosecution delivered on what it promised to show in its opening statement more than a month ago, he said.
“This case is about justice and it’s about that little boy,” Boring said. “He’s not here with us because that defendant took his life for his own selfish, obsessed reasons.”
'Responsible is not the same thing as criminal'
It’s hard to believe any parent would commit such a heinous act, the prosecutor said. He even acknowledged that Harris likely loved his little boy.
“(T)he defendant’s own brother told us that sometimes the victim is someone who the defendant actually loves. But the offender kills them anyway,” Boring said. “He told us that a parent or someone who cares for that child and loves that child in one regard is oftentimes the one who ends up killing or abusing them. And many times it’s the last person that you would expect who would do evil to a child. Outwardly great people who appear love and care for kids can do the worst to children.”
Harris’ love for his son, shared in testimony by several friends and family members, was on display in a video showing the defendant strumming a guitar as Cooper bounced in rhythm, father and son both smiling broadly.
Kilgore urged jurors to remember that Harris was planning a family cruise and looking for a home in a good school district — behavior inconsistent with someone who planned to kill his child.
“Responsible is not the same thing as criminal,” Kilgore said. “The state has not disproven that this was an accident.”