TIME Crime

Georgia Murder Case Brings Unprecedented Attention to Hot-Car Deaths

Justin Ross Harris sits in Cobb County Magistrate Court in Marietta, Georgia in this July 3, 2014 file photo.
Justin Ross Harris sits in Cobb County Magistrate Court in Marietta, Ga., on July 3, 2014 Reuters

Whether that attention will help decrease the number of children who die in hot cars remains to be seen

The Georgia father whose 22-month-old son died of heat stroke in June after being left in the backseat of a car was indicted on three murder charges by a Georgia grand jury Thursday.

With salacious details that led to an unusual murder charge, the legal drama has brought unprecedented attention to the issue of hot-car deaths. But whether that attention will help decrease the number of children who die in hot cars remains to be seen.

Janette Fennell, a safety advocate who runs the organization KidsAndCars.org, said that awareness of the issue has risen to its highest point in her years of advocacy the issue thanks to the case. That perception is bolstered by survey results released last week suggesting that more than 85% of people have heard about the issue, compared with 69% in April.

“Before this case, there were 12 tragedies this year, and when this happened everything was lit on fire,” Fennell said. “There has never been a case that has gotten this much media attention.”

The case began as a typical, if tragic, case of a father planning to drop of his child off at day care and forgetting. Groups rallied to support a man who seemed to be a grieving father.

But shocking details emerged and transformed public perception. Police say Justin Ross Harris, the father, had searched the Internet for information about animals dying in hot cars and researched living without a child. While his child withered away in the car, Harris allegedly sent sexually explicit photos to women.

While many parents have been charged for negligence or even manslaughter after the deaths of their children in hot cars, experts say they’re not aware of cases where there has been intent. Jan Null, a meteorologist who researches the issue, said more than 50% of deaths were caused by parents who accidentally forget their child, with the rest caused by children who accidentally trapped themselves in a car without parental supervision.

The alleged intent in this case was at least an element of what led authorities to pursue murder charges. The first count, malice murder, explicitly alleges that Harris killed his son with “malice aforethought.” He also faces seven other charges, including cruelty to children and dissemination of harmful material to minors.

Fennel said the Harris case has led some in the public to believe that any heat-stroke death must have been intentional. In one case, she said, a father from Ohio whose child had died accidentally in the back of a car was confused with Harris and accused of murdering his child.

“We’re on this teeter-totter,” she said. “If it turns out there was intent, then you’re going to have this one case that everybody can refer to and take that idea and apply it to any of these cases.”

TIME 2014 elections

Michelle Nunn Grabs Zell Miller Endorsement

Former Georgia governor and U.S. Senator Zell Miller gives a boost to the Nunn campaign

Former Georgia governor and U.S. Senator Zell Miller endorsed Senate Democratic candidate Michelle Nunn Thursday, calling her a “bridge-builder” that could end Washington partisanship.

Miller, an 82 year-old conservative Democrat, has a history of working with and endorsing Republicans. He endorsed President George W. Bush in 2004, Sen. Saxby Chambilss (R-Ga.) in 2008 and Gov. Sonny Perdue, the cousin of Nunn Republican opponent David Perdue, in 2006. This cycle Miller is also supporting Republican Gov. Nathan Deal over Democrat Jason Carter, the grandson of the former president.

The Miller endorsement caps a whirlwind week for the Nunn-Perdue race. The National Republican Senatorial Committee’s dropped its $2.5 million ad campaign calling Nunn “Obama’s senator,” Nunn released her first negative ad ripping Perdue’s business record, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a piece the Perdue campaign has labeled Nunn’s “DC Insider Land Deal.” The New York Times Senate forecaster moved its rankings of the race from “Tossup” to “Lean Republican” on Thursday.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bb8D3UPaLz4

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bTREGpKHHKQ#t=20

But Nunn’s camp is hoping the endorsement from Miller, who worked with her father, former senator Sam Nunn in the 1990s, will generate momentum for her campaign.

“I have great respect for her dedication to public service, and her dedication to bipartisan results,” Miller told the Journal-Constitution, citing Nunn’s leadership of the service organization Points of Light, which was created by former President George H.W. Bush. “I think she shares a lot of characteristics with her father.”

“I’ve known her since she was born,” he added.

TIME 2014 elections

Republican Bashes Michelle Nunn Over ‘DC Insider Land Deal’ With Lobbyists

Michelle Nunn speaks to her supporters after winning the Democratic primary for Georgia Senate on May 20, 2014. Akili-Casundria Ramsess—AP

David Perdue, the Georgia Republican businessman running for Senate, criticized his Democratic opponent Michelle Nunn over a land deal she struck with two Washington lobbyists four years ago.

The deal protected from future development large portions of 850 acres in Glynn County, which projects out into the Atlantic Ocean. Nunn and the lobbyists—one-time aides to her father, Sam, the former Senator—secured a $2 million loan in 2004 to buy the land in the hopes of building new houses and condominiums, but the idea fell through during the recession, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The 2010 land deal gave back “tens of thousands of dollars” in tax benefits, the newspaper reported.

Perdue called it a “DC insider land deal” on Twitter Wednesday night, shortly after the new broke. A campaign spokesman told the Journal-Constitution that the deal was evidence that Nunn isn’t the Washington outsider she claims to be.

“Michelle Nunn’s cozy relationships with Washington insiders undercut everything she is saying in her TV ads,” Perdue spokesman Derrick Dickey told the Journal-Constitution. “They are not only funding her campaign to mislead Georgians about who she really is, but they are apparently funding her personal business deals as well.”

Nunn’s campaign predicted the attack as early as December, writing in a memo to the candidate that it would prepare “complex and lengthy” pushback documents relating to “Michelle’s conservation easements.” That memo, leaked by National Review last month, listed “Nunn is not a ‘real’ Georgian” as one potential attack to combat. Nunn has lived in Georgia since 1989, but grew up in Maryland.

Nunn’s campaign told the Journal-Constitution that preserving land for environmental reasons is a widespread practice used by Democrats and Republicans, including Perdue’s cousin, former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue.

“It’s the highest hypocrisy for David Perdue to criticize a conservation program championed by his cousin and business partner, Governor Sonny Perdue,” Nunn spokesman Nathan Click told the Journal-Constitution.

“Michelle, her husband, Senator Nunn and Colleen Nunn were able to protect beautiful land in Glynn County for future generations through a program supported not just by Governor Perdue but a broad swath of Georgia leaders including Senators Chambliss and Isakson,” he added.

The Times Senate forecaster moved its rankings of the race from “Tossup” to “Lean Republican” on Thursday. Nunn released her first negative ad attacking Perdue’s business record earlier this week.

TIME justice

Two Killed in Georgia Rampage, Including Shooter

Authorities are still trying to piece together why a man shot up a house before stealing and car

A man in northwest Georgia went on a shooting rampage, killing two people including himself.

The man, whose name has not been released by police, is accused of shooting three people at a house in Cartersville, about 40 miles outside Atlanta. One victim was declared dead at the scene and the other two were transported to a nearby hospital. Police say the shooter then fled in a car, which he crashed into a house, the Associated Press reports.

He then broke into the house, shot occupant in the hand, carjacked a vehicle from an elderly man and his grandson and crashed into a truck, police said. The collision caused a fire, whereupon police say the shooter turned the gun on himself. Neither the elderly man nor his grandson were injured in the incident.

Bartow County Sherriff Clark Millsap said the shooter knew his victims and police are investigating the cause of the shootings.

[AP]

MONEY Shopping

WATCH: Shop This Weekend and Escape the Sales Tax

Several states are suspending sales taxes to encourage shoppers to hit the stores.

TIME States

Family of Georgia Teen Found Dead at School Files New Lawsuit

Kendrick Johnson rally in Atlanta, Georgia
Jacquelyn Johnson, center, and her husband Kenneth, right, speak at a rally on behalf of their dead son Kendrick Johnson at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on Dec. 11, 2013 Erik S. Lesser—EPA

They insist that the death of 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson was murder, and that its aftermath has been a comprehensive cover-up

The family of a Georgia teenager found dead in his high school gymnasium last year has sued school officials, accusing them of ignoring patterns of harassment that some believe culminated in his murder.

On Jan. 11, 2013, a group of students at Lowndes High School in the south Georgia town of Valdosta discovered the body of Kendrick Johnson rolled up in an exercise mat in the school gymnasium. His death, local police investigators determined, was an accident — he had climbed into the center of the mat to fetch a shoe and got stuck — but his parents, Kenneth and Jacquelyn Johnson, were not convinced.

They have filed two lawsuits against the school system in the past three months, CNN reports, both claiming that the relevant authorities willfully ignored a string of incidents in which white students antagonized Kendrick, who was black. The most recent, filed this week, points directly at Lowndes High School’s principal, Jay Floyd, as well as Lowndes County’s Board of Education and its superintendent.

Because of their indifference, the suit says, Kendrick was “violently assaulted, severely injured, suffered great physical pain and mental anguish, and subjected to insult and loss of life.”

His parents insist that his death was a homicide, and its aftermath a conspiratorial cover-up. After local authorities officially dismissed this claim, Kenneth and Jacquelyn Johnson solicited the services of an independent pathologist, who identified “unexplained apparent nonaccidental blunt force trauma” to their son’s neck. When that pathologist, Dr. Bill Anderson, opened up Kendrick’s body for a second autopsy, he discovered its organs were missing, and it had been stuffed with newspaper.

Coroners typically remove organs during the initial autopsy but are expected to replace them; Kendrick’s parents complained they were not consulted.

Federal agencies launched an official investigation last fall, but the process of justice has been torpid. An anonymous email sent in January listing four students responsible for Kendrick’s death is not credible, authorities say.

[CNN]

TIME 2014 Election

Michelle Nunn’s Leaked Memos Offer Rare Glimpse of Campaign Calculation

Michelle Nunn speaks to her supporters after winning the Democratic primary for Georgia Senate on May 20, 2014. Akili-Casundria Ramsess—AP

The leaked documents offer a rare inside look at campaign strategy

As a Democrat in a Southern state, Senate candidate Michelle Nunn has a tough path to victory. The road became a little bumpier Monday, when a conservative magazine published a series of internal strategy memos outlining the Nunn campaign’s perceptions of the candidate’s weaknesses.

The memos are a guide to practically everything the Nunn campaign worried about last winter—except how to run damage control on the memos themselves.

Obtained by reporter Eliana Johnson of National Review, the documents detail the challenges Nunn must surmount to win election as a moderate Democrat in conservative Georgia. Among the vulnerabilities identified are the perception that Nunn is “too liberal,” that she is “not a real Georgian” and that Republicans will tie her to national Democratic leaders who are deeply unpopular in the Peach State.

The documents warn of weak spots stemming from Nunn’s role as CEO of a nonprofit foundation. They reveal the campaign’s clinic assessment of how it must mobilize traditional liberal constituencies, like African-Americans, Jews and Asians. And they expose the campaign’s plan to sell Nunn with “rural” imagery that might soften up Georgia voters skeptical of a candidate reared partly in the suburbs of Washington, where her father served as a Georgia senator.

According to National Review, the documents were briefly posted online in December.

Beyond the potentially damaging aspects, the memos offer a rare, unvarnished glimpse into the mechanics of running a campaign. They cover everything from scrubbing a voter file to modeling turnout (1.4 million votes is Nunn’s magic number, according to a memo from Democratic strategist Diane Feldman). The documents map the architecture of Nunn’s outreach machine and detail which constituencies to target. Much of the information will reinforce negative impressions of how campaigns work, including suggestions for how to drive a message week-by-week and the ways it can whack Republican opponents.

In short, the memos are a classic example of what is known in Washington as a Kinsley gaffe: when a politician errs by accidentally revealing the truth. (The phenomenon is named after the journalist Michael Kinsley, who coined the phenomenon.) The existence of the memos is not a surprise; any campaign worth its salt undertakes a study of its perceived weaknesses. The Nunn memos are remarkable less for their judgments than for the fact that a hapless adviser apparently posted them on the Internet.

“Like all good plans, they change. But what hasn’t changed and is all the more clear today is that Michelle’s opponents are going to mischaracterize her work and her positions, and part of what we’ve always done is to prepare for the false things that are going to be said,” Nunn campaign manager Jeff DeSantis told The Hill.

From time to time, these leaks happen. In 2007, internal strategy memos from Mitt Romney’s first presidential campaign were obtained by the Boston Globe, including a 77-page PowerPoint presentation dotted with analyses of both Romney’s weaknesses and those of his GOP rivals. Around the same time, Rudy Giuliani’s strategy blueprint materialized online after a leak. The Atlantic nabbed similar documents from Hillary Clinton’s team the following year, revealing her campaign’s concerns about “frontrunner-itis” and its strategy for exploiting Barack Obama’s “lack of American roots.”

Recent polls have shown the Democrat in a tight race with Republican nominee David Perdue, who edged Rep. Jack Kingston in a Republican Senate runoff last week. A Democratic Senate Campaign Committee memo released (intentionally) last week assails the GOP businessman’s “record of putting himself first,” a signal that Nunn’s campaign will borrow a page from the populist playbook President Obama’s advisers deployed against Romney. As they fight to hold control of the Senate, Democrats view the race as a rare pickup opportunity on an unforgiving electoral map.

How much will the leak hurt Nunn’s prospects? It’s tough to say. But when you’re trying to sell a candidate as authentic, a long look at the careful packaging can’t help.

TIME Campaign Finance

Hank Aaron Swings for Democrat Michelle Nunn in Fundraising Plea

MLB: New York Mets at Atlanta Braves
Former Atlanta Brave Hank Aaron speaks during a ceremony honoring the 40th anniversary of his 715th home run at Turner Field, Atlanta, on Apr 8, 2014 Daniel Shirey—USA Today Sports

Hank Aaron calls the fundraising push a “money bomb”

Baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron has stepped up to the plate for Michelle Nunn, a Democratic candidate running for Georgia’s U.S. Senate seat.

Aaron, who broke Babe Ruth’s home-run record in 1974, emailed Nunn’s supporters urging them to contribute more money to the campaign. The email, unsurprisingly, was laced with baseball references from the 80-year-old.

The Huffington Post had some of the details from the message:

The 755 home runs I hit in my time mean a lot to me, but there’s another record that I’m proud to hold, the all-time record for runs batted in (RBI).

You see, games aren’t won or lost on the efforts of one person, they rest on the shoulders of team. And every RBI is a result of teammates working together to achieve one common goal — victory.

If each one of us steps up to the plate and contributes during this 24-hour fundraising effort called a “money bomb,” I know we can bring home the single-biggest fundraising day of Michelle’s campaign.

Now that’s an RBI, I’d like to add to my records. Will you help me do it?

Aaron joins Vice President Joe Biden as another high-profile supporter of Nunn. A political newcomer, Nunn will vie for the open Senate seat with new Republican nominee and businessman David Perdue in November. The result of the Georgia race could have a bearing on control of the Senate, which currently comprises 53 Democrats, 45 Republicans and two independents.

[Huffington Post]

TIME Bizarre

A Boy Got Booted from a Restaurant Because He Had a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Shirt

Is nothing sacred?

A four-year-old boy was kicked out of a restaurant in Georgia for sporting a sleeveless Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles t-shirt deemed in violation of the “Gentlemen’s Dress Code.”

Lewis Roberts—the reptile ninja in training—chose the outfit for lunch out with the family at the Tavern at Phipps in Atlanta, local news station 11 Alive reports.

The family was told Roberts’ shirt violated dress code and when they protested to the manager that the wee ninja was only four, the manager said the dress code applies to “gentlemen of all ages.”

After being contacted by local media, a spokesman for the restaurant issued a statement clarifying that the “Rule does not apply for children and ladies—for gentleman (sic) only. It was an embarrassing misunderstanding on our part. She’s a manager in training who had a gross misunderstanding of our policy. We apologize and are reaching out to the family.”

The Roberts family was happy to accept the apology and said they’ll dine at the restaurant again.

Turtle power.

[11 Alive]

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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