Police describe gruesome conditions after Ga. toddler's hot car death

BRUNSWICK, Ga. -- A police officer testified Wednesday that he smelled “the odor of death” emanating from the SUV where 22-month-old Cooper Harris died in the heat.

Testimony resumed Wednesday in the trial of Justin Ross Harris, after court proceedings in the coastal Georgia city of Brunswick were delayed because of Hurricane Matthew.

Prosecutors contend that Harris intended to kill his son, and he faces a murder charge in the boy’s death. Defense lawyers say it was an accident.

Police have said they believe Harris would have noticed the smell immediately as he drove home from work with his dead son in a back seat, but kept driving for several blocks before pulling over.

“Normally, I’d associate (the smell) with death,” Carey Grimstead, a former crime scene investigator, told jurors, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

The inside of the car “smelled like the odor of death,” Cobb County police Capt. James Ferrell testified.

Prosecutors say Harris left his son for hours inside the vehicle as it was parked outside his workplace in Cobb County, just northwest of Atlanta.

Earlier this month, Atiyka Eastland testified that she was eating at a nearby restaurant when she saw Cooper Harris lying on the ground, reported 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 reported. 

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.

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.

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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

“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 said 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.

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.

Harris faces life in prison if convicted of murder.

Pretrial publicity prompted the trial’s move to Brunswick, 275 miles from the Atlanta suburbs.

Harris moved from Tuscaloosa, Alabama to Georgia in 2012 to take a job with The Home Depot’s corporate offices in Cobb County.