(BRUNSWICK, Ga.) — Justin Ross Harris’ ex-wife, Leanna Taylor, grew emotional on the stand at her ex-husband’s murder trial Monday morning as she looked at one of the last photos taken of her son, Cooper.
Harris is accused of murdering his and Taylor’s 22-month-old son, Cooper, who died June 18, 2014, after spending about seven hours in a car seat in Harris’ hot SUV in the Atlanta, Georgia, area. That day, temperatures in Atlanta were in the low 90s.
Authorities say Cooper was in the car when Harris drove to work at a Home Depot corporate office that morning. When Harris went inside, Cooper was left in the vehicle. Harris returned to his car during lunch to put something away, then went back to work.
Testifying in defense of her ex-husband at his trial in Brunswick, Georgia, Monday, Leanna Taylor recounted how on that summer day she learned from her son’s daycare teachers that her husband had not brought the child in for the day.
“We were trying to figure out when Ross left work,” she said. “One of the daycare teachers called me and said ‘Leanna, I think it’s time to call the police.'”
“I was in complete denial about the situation,” Taylor said. “My phone rang and it was a detective … I said, ‘Will you please just tell me what’s wrong? I know something’s wrong.’ They said, ‘No, we’re gonna talk about it when we get there.’ I said, ‘It’s bad, isn’t it?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s bad.'”
When detectives arrived, Taylor said she felt the situation wasn’t real.
“They told me that my son was deceased,” Taylor said. “I didn’t know what had happened. I didn’t know if Ross was OK, I didn’t know anything.”
“I needed more information,” she said. “It just wasn’t real. It was like I wasn’t even there. I couldn’t understand.”
“Sometimes it still doesn’t feel real,” she said, crying.
Taylor said that when Harris was questioned by police, he was “broken and just beside himself,” she said.
Taylor described Harris as an involved father who enjoyed time with his son.
“Based on everything that I knew that day, Ross must have left him in the car. That was the only thing that made sense. The only thing that clicked in my mind as even a remote possibility,” she said. “He must have forgot.”
Court documents stated Harris allegedly researched child deaths in hot cars before the incident. Cooper was pronounced dead after he had been locked in the SUV while Harris went to work. Charges in the indictment also refer to sexually explicit online exchanges from March 2014 through the day of Cooper’s death that prosecutors say Harris had with an underage girl.
Prosecutors have argued that Harris wanted to be free of his family responsibilities and was having multiple online affairs, including with the underage girl.
Defense attorneys said Cooper’s death was an accident and that Harris forgot his son was in the car.
Harris faces eight charges: malice murder, two counts of felony murder, cruelty to children in the first degree, cruelty to children in the second degree, criminal attempt to commit a felony and two counts of dissemination of harmful material to minors. He has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.
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