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Prosecutors raise new questions about Cooper Harris’ time of death

Cobb County prosecutors raised new questions Wednesday about how long it took Justin Ross Harris’ son to die in the back of an SUV on the 9th day of testimony in the the hot car death trial. Jurors also heard more testimony about Harris’ secret life, including one woman who said the former Home Depot web developer told her his conscience never “kicked in” at the thought of cheating on his wife.

When did Cooper die? On Tuesday, former Cobb County Medical Examiner Brian Frist testified “Cooper could’ve survived” the morning of June 18, 2014, as long as temperatures remained in the 90s inside the car. A person dies of hyperthermia, he said, when his or her internal temperature exceeds 105 degrees.

On Wednesday, a heat expert called by the state testified the temperature inside Harris’ SUV didn’t pass 100 degrees until just before 1 p.m. David Michael Brani of Applied Technical Services said the temperature was 98 degrees at 12:45 p.m., when Harris returned to his vehicle to drop off some light bulbs. By then 22-month-old Cooper had spent more than three hours strapped into his car seat.

Was he still alive? Frist confirmed there was no way to pinpoint an exact time of death, but the possibility adds another chilling layer to the prosecution’s claim that Harris intentionally killed his son.

Brani said his conclusions were reached during tests conducted three weeks after Cooper’s death. He parked Harris’ Hyundai Tucson in the same spot in the Home Depot Treehouse lot where the toddler perished. The temperature inside the car peaked that day at 125 degrees around 3:30 p.m., Brani testified.

Telling texts? A metro Atlanta woman testified she had been exchanging lewd sexts for days leading up to Cooper’s death in a hot car. They exchanged nude photos, engaged in sexual banter and suggested one day they’d hook up.

When Harris messaged that he was the lead guitarist at his church, Caitlin Hickey Floyd replied: “But you still exercise the thought of being with someone else when you’re married?”

When Harris responded, “Yep,” Floyd asked, “Does your conscience ever kick in?”

“Nope,” Harris replied.

On the day of Cooper’s death, Harris sent Floyd a message at 1:17 p.m., letting her know he was at work. He then asked her to send him a photo of her breasts.

Floyd said she’d oblige, but only if Harris would “ask nicely.”

“Please madam,” Harris responded.

Floyd then sent the photo, prompting Harris to say he wanted to engage in sexual acts with her.

“Good things come to those who wait,” Floyd said.

“Wait I shall,” replied Harris, who was arrested later that day and has been in custody ever since.

Careless Whisper. On the morning Harris left Cooper in his car he responded to a post on the social media app Whisper by a mother of two who said she felt unappreciated. “I hate being married with kids. The novelty has worn off and I have nothing to show for it,” she wrote, adding, “I don’t resent my kids. I resent him.”

At 9:15 a.m., while eating breakfast with Cooper, Harris messaged the woman: “I love my son and all but both need escapes.” Ten minutes later he got out of his car in the Home Depot parking lot, leaving Cooper behind.

During his opening statement, lead prosecutor Chuck Boring said this exchange helps explain why Harris wanted to kill his son.

What’s next: Lead investigator Phil Stoddard is expected to take the stand, perhaps as early as this week. The defense has repeatedly attacked his credibility, introducing several contradictions from Stoddard’s previous testimony. The state may also call Leanna Taylor, Harris’ ex-wife, whom they once implied may have been involved in her son’s death. She’s never been charged and Cobb police now say she is not under investigation.

Follow minute-to-minute developments in the trial every day at AJC reporters Christian Boone (@reporterJCB) and Bill Rankin (@ajccourts) will be in Brunswick for the duration of the trial.

Harris is the subject of the second season of the AJC’s podcast series “Breakdown,” which will follow the trial’s developments. Follow live updates on Twitter at @AJCBreakdown.

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