BRUNSWICK — In their first week of deliberations, the jury in the Ross Harris case focused on the hours immediately following the death of his 22-month-old son Cooper.
The six-man, six-woman panel asked to review three videos from June 18, 2014: Harris’ interview with lead detective Phil Stoddard, his reunion with Leanna Taylor in a police interrogation room, and his return to his SUV at lunchtime, roughly three hours after leaving Cooper strapped in his car seat.
They watched each video closely, but it seemed their attention was riveted on the third, when Harris returned to his SUV after lunch and tossed some light bulbs into the front seat.
“The third video, because it was so short, everyone was paying attention to see what it was,” Atlanta criminal defense attorney Esther Panitch said. “And it’s a very difficult video to analyze because it was taken from such a distance away from where Ross was in his car. So it’s interesting to see. It makes sense the jurors wanted to see what happened on that day.”
She and other attorneys caution that it’s all a guessing game: no one, except the jury itself, knows for sure what those 12 people are thinking about, talking about or arguing about back in the jury room.
Prosecutors say Harris left his son in the car intentionally. Apparently at least one juror doesn’t agree.
It’s unknown whether a debate over malice murder, the most serious of the charges against Harris, led jurors to go to the tape for another look. Perhaps they wanted to see whether Harris’ stories matched up. Maybe they wanted to study his demeanor again.
But that didn’t stop the wild speculation after jurors asked the court to define “wanton,” which appears in the definition of criminal negligence — “an act or failure to act which demonstrates a willful, wanton, or reckless disregard for the safety of others who might reasonably be expected to be injured thereby,” according to Georgia law.
That means Harris knew his son could be hurt as a result of his actions, in this case, his serial sexting with online strangers.
Harris faces a maximum of life in prison without parole plus 42 years if convicted on all counts. If convicted on any of three murder counts, he would have to serve a minimum 30 year-sentence before being eligible for parole.
So far there has been no indication whether the jury is nearing unanimity or going in the opposite direction. One thing we do know: Deliberations will resume at 8:30 a.m. Monday.