Details of Justin Ross Harris’ lurid texts to an underaged teen and another woman came to light on Monday, making for an uncomfortable morning of testimony for the jury.
But the day’s testimony also brought good news for the defense — a bombshell revelation that seemingly contradicts the prosecution’s long-held assertion that Harris wanted to live a “child-free” life. Harris is charged with murdering his 22-month-old son Cooper by leaving him in a hot SUV in June 2014. The defense maintains it was a tragic accident.
Here’s what you need to know from Monday’s court proceedings.
1. ‘A naughty old man’
A 17-year-old Alabama girl, whose identity was shielded, discussed details of her online conversations with Harris. She was just 15 when she met the Home Depot web developer, then 33, through the anonymous messaging app Whisper. He had responded to her post stating, “I love older guys.”
“It was a sexual conversation,” she said. The girl initially told Harris she was 18. He sent her a photo of his penis, which was introduced into evidence, prompting an apology from prosecutor Chuck Boring as he shared it with jurors. Eventually the Alabama girl told Harris her real age. He was not deterred.
“He told me he wanted me to make him a naughty old man,” she said.
Another woman also testified that she had sexted with Harris for more than a year and had sex with him once.
On Monday, a state witness testified that he told Harris about that Reddit site while in a group chat along with another co-worker at Home Depot. That witness, Alex Hall, said Harris checked out the site and, within two minutes, responded, “Grossness.”
The revelation was the latest, and easily the biggest, rebuttal to the state’s case against Harris, charged with intentionally killing his son Cooper. Previous testimony from witnesses, also called by the prosecution, contradicted law enforcement’s claims that Harris showed no emotion after discovering his son’s lifeless body.
3. ‘If the schools were decent’
In a Google chat conversation with some co-workers, Harris talked about hunting for houses in Acworth and Kennesaw. Hall, one of the co-workers, mentioned that Harris would have a really long commute.
If you pay my son’s private school, I’d gladly live in Buckhead,” Harris wrote. “I’d live inside the perimeter if the schools were decent.”
In another chat, June 12, 2014, Harris wrote just days before Cooper died that,“I’m hanging with the lady and my boy Saturday.”
In the chat that included a photo of burgers on a grill, Hall teased Ross because he was using a gas grill instead of charcoal. “When you have a wife and kids, easy is the way to go,” Harris said. Co-workers also testified Monday that Harris didn’t seem unusually stressed out in the days leading to Cooper’s death and that he liked to show off his son.
Testimony in the case begins again today at 8:30 a.m. Come to AJC.com for minute-by-minute coverage.
You can follow the latest developments in the case on Twitter at @AJCBreakdown. AJC reporters Christian Boone (@reporterJCB) and Bill Rankin (@ajccourts) will be in Brunswick for the duration of the trial.
Harris is also the subject of the second season of the AJC’s podcast series “Breakdown,” which will follow the trial’s developments.