TIME Crime

Police Say the Hot-Car Toddler Died While His Dad Was Sexting

Justin Ross Harris
Justin Ross Harris, the father of a toddler who died after police say he was left in a hot car for about seven hours, sits during his bond hearing in Cobb County Magistrate Court, Thursday, July 3, 2014, in Marietta, Ga. Kelly J. Huff—AP

Detectives say man sent explicit messages to women as son died in car

On Thursday a judge denied bail to Justin Ross Harris, a man whose 22-month-old son died after being left in his hot car, after finding probable cause to charge him with felony murder and child cruelty. Harris, of Cobb County, Georgia, has pleaded not guilty.

At the hearing, detectives shared incriminating evidence that had been found on Harris’ computer, tablet and smartphone. Lead investigator Phil Stoddard testified that Harris had been sending explicit text messages to six different women through an app called Kik — including a picture of his erect penis to a 16-year-old girl — while his son Cooper Harris was trapped in the car for hours and subsequently died. According to Stoddard, Harris may also be charged with sexual exploitation of a minor.

Detectives also found evidence on Harris’ computer that he had been reading articles on a Reddit page called “child-free”— a thread for people who do not have or want children — in the months leading up to the incident. Harris had also twice watched a public-service-announcement video that dramatized the results of leaving an animal in a hot car. The last time it was watched was only five days before his son died on June 18. Detectives say that Internet searches also revealed Harris was looking for tips on how to survive in prison.

Harris’ wife Leanna explained to police that they had watched the video after she saw a public-service announcement reminding parents not to leave children in cars, CNN reported.

During the hearing, detectives also claimed that Harris was exhibiting strange behavior after he had been interrogated. In the interview room, his wife asked him what he told police. “And she looks at him, and she’s like, ‘Well, did you say too much?'” Stoddard testified.

The Cobb County medical examiner’s office has said that Cooper’s cause of death was “consistent with hyperthermia and the investigative information suggests the manner of death is homicide.”

Cooper’s funeral was held in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Saturday.

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