Witness breaks down as he recalls trying to help boy who died in hot car

Cooper Harris in an undated family photo.


BRUNSWICK, Ga. -- A witness became emotional Tuesday as he took the stand to describe his attempts to revive 22-month-old boy who died in a hot car.

Cooper Harris died in June 2014 after being left for seven hours in his father’s vehicle outside his metro Atlanta workplace. Justin Ross Harris’ defense contends it was a tragic accident and that Harris simply forgot to drop the boy off at day care. But prosecutors say Harris left the child to die on purpose as he sought to escape the responsibilities of family life and focus on sexual liaisons with prostitutes and young women - even teenagers - he met online.

James Hawkins, a lighting installer, testified he rushed over to help and tried to administer CPR to the boy, reports the Atlanta Journal Constitution. But the child was already dead.


Justin Ross Harris during opening statements during his trial in Brunswick, Ga., Monday, Oct. 3, 2016. 

Stephen B. Morton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, Pool

“It was [like] blowing into a busted bag,” Hawkins said. “He was gone. He was dead.”

Hawkins wiped away tears as he testified. He reportedly said he left the scene without talking to police, distraught because he had lost his own daughter a year earlier.

“I was really upset,” he said.

Before Hawkins took the stand, a police officer testified Justin Ross Harris was initially combative with officers and later complained that he was hot in the back of a patrol car.

Cobb County police Det. Jacquelyn Piper was called as the first prosecution witness Tuesday in Harris’ murder trial.

Piper testified that Harris was on the phone when she arrived at the scene and initially refused to get off, using an expletive when telling another officer to shut up.

“He started a monotoned yelling that seemed really forced,” Piper testified, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I found it kind of unusual.”

Piper said Harris also insisted he had to call his wife because she was going to go to Cooper’s day care and he wouldn’t be there and later made casual conversation while she was taking him to police headquarters.

Jurors saw a 90-minute video from an officer’s patrol car in which Ross Harris can be heard saying, “I swore I dropped him off – I thought I did.”

Once he was in a cruiser, Piper said Harris complained about how hot it was in the car. He’s seen on police video sitting in the cruiser while Piper tells him the “air conditioning is all the way up.”

Harris also says the handcuffs are “really hurting me.”

Later, the video shows Harris repeatedly wailing “What have I done? My boy!” But he’s also seen sitting silent for long stretches of time.

When Harris was in the police car “he never mentioned his son,” Piper said, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“I didn’t see any crying. His face wasn’t wet,” she testified.

Harris faces life in prison if he’s convicted of murder. Prosecutors decided not to seek the death penalty. The case drew national attention and was so closely followed in Harris’ suburban home of Cobb County that a judge moved the trial 275 miles to Brunswick, on the Georgia coast.

Sixteen total jurors - eight men and eight women - were seated Monday morning to hear the case. Four of them will serve as alternate jurors, who will have a final say in the trial only if one or more of the 12 main jurors are dismissed.