They had to convince the jury that someone could be capable of such unimaginable evil, said lead prosecutor Chuck Boring.
“I believe that, all in all, people go about their normal days, they don’t see this stuff … that we see in our jobs,” Boring said Tuesday. “You know, they don’t have a window into that world.”
Prosecutors opened that window wide, exposing the six-man, six-woman jury to Harris’ secret world of sexual depravity — a world that motivated Harris to kill his son, according to the state’s theory.
Jurors were convinced, telling prosecutors after the trial that there was near-unanimity from the beginning that Harris was guilty of malice.
Boring, head of the Cobb District Attorney’s Office Special Victims Unit, said he wasn’t always convinced that Harris intended to do it. But he said the evidence continued to point in that direction.
“In the first couple of weeks into it as the investigation was going, you know, everything at every turn we got to was showing us malice, but even in our world you don’t want to believe somebody is capable of this,” Boring said.
And he’s seen human behavior at his worst. He recalled one case from his days as a Fulton County prosecutor that’s stuck with him to this day.
“The parents starved the kid to death and blamed the child’s death on a vegan diet,” Boring said. “So that one, the evidence was overwhelming, but still to this day I don’t have an answer what motivated them to say, ‘You know what, we don’t want this child anymore, we’re just going to set him in this apartment and let him waste away.’”
So what explains Harris’ actions? Why not just divorce his wife if, as the state claimed, he wanted to live as a single man, free of familial responsibilities?
“I think he’s a narcissist, absolutely,” the prosecutor said. “I think he was motivated by his own selfish needs. He was motivated also by people’s perceptions. And in some sick way I think he thought he was going to get attention from this as well. Like positive attention. He looked for a way he wouldn’t ‘look like the bad guy,’ so to speak.”
Throughout the course of the trial, Boring and fellow prosecutors Jesse Evans and Susan Treadaway held firm to their belief that Harris intentionally killed his child. In fact, during opening statements, Boring told jurors he would prove to them there would be “no doubt” Harris was guilty of malice murder.
Cobb police had become convinced early on, though Boring disputed the defense’s claim of a rush to judgment by law enforcement.
“It would have been a much easier avenue to take for us to chalk this up as some type of negligence, as some type of accident,” he said. “It would have been easier on everybody and we could have gone home and not had to deal with it ever again. And now here we are in Brunswick two and a half years later. It was one of those things where you just can’t ignore the evidence.”
No such evidence exists against Harris’ former wife, Leanna Taylor, who testified for the defense that even though she hoped never to see her ex-husband again, she didn’t believe he meant to harm their son.
Police once considered her a suspect. That suspicion, aired publicly at Harris’ probable cause hearing in July 2014, has dogged Taylor to this day, with many questioning her placid demeanor after learning of Cooper’s death.
For the first time, Boring said Tuesday there is “no evidence to charge her with anything.”
“I would tell (the public) you just don’t go jumping to conclusions and accusing somebody of something we don’t have evidence of,” Boring said. “So I think that’s kind of where we have to leave it at this point.”
When notified of Boring’s comments, Taylor’s lawyer, Lawrence Zimmerman, said it was unfortunate they didn’t come sooner.
“We hope that Mr. Boring’s statement may dissuade others from making nasty and negative comments about her,” Zimmerman said of his client. “She is a mother who lost her only child and only a few unlucky parents will know what it is like to live in her skin. We never had any doubt about her complete innocence.”
As for her ex-husband, Harris never thought he would be suspected in Cooper’s death, Boring said. That may help explain why he was so careless in covering his tracks, according to the prosecutor.
“I really think that he in no way believed anyone would call BS on him,” Boring said. “I really think from the get-go he didn’t think anyone was going to question him.”
Boring said he wasn’t surprised Harris chose not to testify on his own behalf. Doing so would’ve exposed too much, especially from a man with so many secrets, he said.
“When he’s under oath and has to answer questions, he can’t just find a way to manipulate his way out of it,” Boring said. “It would have been very easy to point out those errors and expose the truth as to what was going on and he would have to admit to so many lies and untruths and things like that. It’s easier for him to sit back and not testify and later armchair quarterback and say, ‘Well, you know, they got it wrong.’”
Harris will be sentenced Dec. 5 in Cobb Superior Court.
Boring declined to specify what sentence he would seek, though he seemed to indicate Harris was deserving of the maximum: life in prison without parole plus 42 years.
“What do you do when you’ve got somebody proven guilty of intentionally cooking a child in a car?” he asked.