BRUNSWICK — Jurors in the Justin Ross Harris murder trial got their first glimpse Wednesday of images none of them wanted to see.
At least two jurors on the six-man, six-woman panel refused to look at crime-scene photos showing the body of Cooper Harris, the 22-month-old boy who was left to die inside an SUV on a sweltering June day in 2014. The pictures showed the toddler’s body in a state of rigor mortis, his knees slightly bent, arms to his side, as his body lay on the asphalt of a parking lot in Cobb County. It was, witnesses said, as if he were still sitting in the car seat that his father had strapped him into some seven hours earlier.
Justin Ross Harris, charged with murder in little boy’s death, also looked away as the prosecution projected images of his dead child onto a big screen in the courtroom. Sitting at the defense table in shirtsleeves and tie, Harris covered his eyes with his right hand and appeared to be wiping away tears.
Later Wednesday, with the trial on the verge of an extended recess because of Hurricane Matthew, the defense sought to end the proceedings altogether.
Harris lawyer Maddox Kilgore moved for a mistrial — denied by Superior Court Judge Mary Staley Clark — saying the testimony of Cobb County Officer Brett Gallimore contradicted the police report Gallimore filed on Cooper’s death.
“This witness … came out of the box with stuff that wasn’t in his report, totally and completely different,” Kilgore said. “And we have the right in defending Mr. Harris to bust him on it and show the jury exactly what was in his report.”
Kilgore pointed to new rules of evidence that allowed the defense to admit police reports into evidence.
Judge Staley Clark said she would revisit the matter Monday.
“This is not grounds for a mistrial,” said the judge, who has long been regarded as prosecution-friendly. “There’s a remedy for that called appellate review.”
Gallimore had testified that Harris’ grief after finding his son’s body appeared manufactured.
“I felt like he was acting hysterical. Not hysterical, but acting,” said the officer, one of the first responders at the Akers Mill Square parking lot, where Harris said he first discovered Cooper’s body was in his car.
Under cross-examination, Gallimore was pressed by Kilgore why, in his initial report, he never pointed out Harris’ alleged lack of authenticity.
“At the end of your report, you said when securing the scene Ross Harris was still extremely upset,” Kilgore said.
Questioned by prosecutor Chuck Boring, Gallimore testified he “never saw (Harris) cry once. I didn’t see any emotion whatsoever.”
The court heard from several witnesses who simply happened to be in the Akers Mill Square parking lot that day and saw Ross Harris and his dead son.
The prosecution called Ashleigh Womack, who said she was parking at Akers Mill Square on her way to meet co-workers at a Mexican restaurant and heard screaming as she got of her car.
“I thought it’s kind of early for people to have too many tequila shots to be screaming that way,” she said.
She got out of the car and started walking toward the restaurant when a passerby told her what had happened.
“I said, ‘Oh my God, did anybody call 911?’ I ran up a slight hill and was trying to call 911 at the same time.”
When Womack arrived, she said, she saw a man in a red shirt with dark hair screaming and pacing back and forth.
“What have I done, what have I done, I’ve killed my son,” Womack quoted Harris as saying.
She described Cooper as appearing to be gray or blue, “an unnatural color.” The toddler’s hair was also slicked back from his forehead as if he were sweating, she said.
“He didn’t look good. … It’s not something you ever forget,” she said. “He didn’t look like he was alive
Womack said she found it odd that Harris wasn’t on the ground tending to his son.
Harris’ allegedly bizarre demeanor, which led to his arrest, is a key component of the prosecution’s case.
Witness Dale Hamilton said he watched Harris depart his vehicle “with a sense of urgency.”
“He was distraught. Everybody grieves in a different way,” Hamilton said. “It’s hard to say if it was believable or not.”
But Artiyka Eastland, who watched as Harris tended to his son in the parking lot, testified she found Harris’s actions to be “insincere.”
“He kept turning around to see what was going on,” she said. “The franticness, then being very calm.”
But under cross-examination by Kilgore, Eastland acknowledged initially telling Cobb police “nothing seemed suspicious” about Harris’ reaction.
Judge Staley Clark said Wednesday afternoon that the trial would recess at the end of the day and not reconvene until Monday, because of the approach of Hurricane Matthew. The storm is expected to strike the Georgia coast, including Brunswick, this weekend.