Dad charged in hot car case looks away as jury sees disturbing photos of dead son

BRUNSWICK, Ga. -- A Georgia father charged with murder in the hot car death of his toddler son looked away as jurors were shown graphic images of the boy after his death, reports the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Prosecutors say Justin Ross Harris intentionally killed his 22-month-old son, Cooper, by leaving the child for seven hours in a vehicle parked outside his metro Atlanta workplace in June 2014.

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Justin Ross Harris listens to opening statements during his trial at the Glynn County Courthouse in Brunswick, Ga., Monday, Oct. 3, 2016.  Stephen B. Morton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, Pool

Harris’ defense lawyer Maddox Kilgore told the jury in his opening statement Tuesday that Harris is certainly responsible for his son’s death, but insisted it was an accident and Harris committed no crime.

The disturbing photos showed the child’s body in a state of rigor mortis, his knees bent as though he were still in the car seat, the paper reports. Harris looked away as the prosecution projected the images Wednesday, at one point resting his head on his fist and turning his face away from the screen.

At least two jurors on the 12-person panel also looked away, the paper reports.

As videos were played of the scene showing the boy’s car seat, Harris reportedly covered his eyes with his right hand and appeared to wipe away tears.

Much of the testimony in the trial so far centered on the man’s actions after the boy’s death, with some witnesses saying they didn’t believe Justin Ross Harris’ distress at the scene was genuine.

Atiyka Eastland testified that she was eating at a nearby restaurant when she saw Cooper Harris lying on the ground, reports the Atlanta Journal Constitution. She said Harris was frantic and yelling, “What have I done?” But she said Harris’ wails didn’t seem “sincere,” adding, “I thought it was strange that (Harris’) tears went on and off.”

On cross-examination by defense attorney Maddox Kilgore, however, Eastland admitted she couldn’t recall telling investigators that she saw Harris try to give the boy CPR and call for help, the paper reports.

A police officer who attempted to save the boy’s life said he wrote in his report that Harris was “acting hysterical.”

“When I say he was acting hysterical, I literally mean that he was ‘acting’ hysterical – acting – not genuine,” Cobb police officer Brett Gallimore said.

Gallimore said he didn’t see Harris cry. He said Harris’ behavior wasn’t consistent, and said he would wail one moment, and remain stoic the next. Officers who testified Wednesday said that Harris became combative with police, telling officers “Shut the [expletive] up” and “[Expletive] you” before he was detained.

On cross examination, Gallimore admitted that he hadn’t detailed in his police report his suspicions that Harris wasn’t being sincere.

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Justin Ross Harris, right, his wife Leanna, left, and their son Cooper WGCL

Maddox Kilgore, Harris’ lead defense attorney, told jurors during the second day of the trial Tuesday that Harris forgot his son was in the back seat because of a simple change in routine - he took the boy with him to breakfast that morning, though he usually dropped Cooper off at daycare before eating.

“Ross Harris is responsible for his child’s death. It’s his fault, no doubt about it,” Kilgore told the jury in his opening statement. “What you’re going to see here at this trial is that being responsible is not the same thing as being a criminal.”

Prosecutors say Harris actually plotted to kill his son, hoping to escape his family responsibilities to focus on sexual liaisons he was having with prostitutes and women he met online. Harris is also charged with sending sexually explicit text messages and photos to an underage teenage girl.

“This case is about death, deception and a double life,” prosecutor Chuck Boring said in his opening remarks to the jury Monday.

Kilgore told jurors they will indeed hear about “immoral sexual behavior” and “graphic, filthy sexual talk” by his client. He said Harris “has earned every bit of shame that’s coming his way.”

But Harris was also planning a future with his wife and son - from planning a family cruise at the time of Cooper’s death to talking with a real estate agent about finding a larger house in a good school district, Kilgore said.

Court will be in recess until Monday as Hurricane Matthew heads toward the southeastern U.S., Judge Mary Staley Clark said. The trial is being held in coastal Brunswick, Georgia, which is expected to be in the path of the hurricane. The case was moved 275 miles from the Atlanta suburbs because of pretrial publicity.