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Hot car death: Latest Justin Ross Harris defense strategy, police said too much

The hot car death of 22-month-old Cooper Harris out of Cobb County, Georgia, has taken an all new turn, one that is calling law enforcement into question. HLN is reporting today that the video surveillance evidence presented at the probable cause hearing for Justin Ross Harris is being called into question as un-necessarily vilifying the accused. HLN also reports today that the Cobb County, Georgia, police department are standing by their sworn testimony.

Brother to Justin Ross Harris, hot car death defendant, thinks the police said too much.
Brother to Justin Ross Harris, hot car death defendant, thinks the police said too much.Cobb County Sheriff's Office

It is a headline that is making some say, okay, maybe we should back off now. It is one that is making others say, anyone will leak a story to the press to throw some light off of those accused of a crime. At first it was the Atlanta Journal Constitution reporting this weekend that someone has come forward to suggest that the law enforcement investigating the hot car death of 22-month-old Cooper Harris on June 18 in Cobb County, Georgia, did not do their job right.

The person that came forward even suggested law enforcement had embellished evidence when testifying at the probable cause hearing for Justin Ross Harris where he began to face child cruelty and murder charges in the hot car death of his son. That person even said that this information was used improperly by the press and has thus vilified the accused in this case.

This information comes out just days after Leanna Harris, wife of the accused, said to the world, please stop saying too much.

Following up on the report from the Atlanta Journal Constitution this weekend, HLN has looked into the claims that law enforcement in this case have embellished evidence and are leading the public to believe things about the accused that are not true.

This comes on the heels of a startling report by the Atlanta Journal Constitution this past weekend, that called into question the testimony of Detective Stoddard at the probable cause hearing on July 3 regarding the hot car death of 22-month old Cooper Harris in Cobb County, Georgia.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported this weekend that someone has come forward pointing out discrepancies between the evidence and what the police are saying. The individual coming forward? The brother of the accused.

The key discrepancy among many being disputed is a discrepancy over video surveillance footage that shows Justin Ross Harris in the parking lot of his work place on June 18, the day that Cooper Harris died in his car. At the probable cause hearing in Cobb County, Georgia, on July 3, Detective Phil Stoddard provided testimony as evidence against Justin Ross Harris, stating that a specific timeframe was spent by Ross in his vehicle before he went into the office that morning.

The Toronto Relationships Examiner has previously retraced the steps of Justin Ross Harris on the day in question. The space in time that is being called into question is the time between Ross Harris parking his car in the parking lot at work, and going into the office that morning.

Detective Stoddard testified that Ross Harris spent as much as 30 seconds in the vehicle that morning, suggesting that this was ample time for Ross to realize his son was still in the vehicle, and casting doubt on the defense's claim that Ross simply forgot to drop his son off at daycare that day. The Atlanta Journal Constitution has reviewed the video surveillance and stated that the defendant Justin Ross Harris only actually stayed in his car for 15 seconds, and not the 30 that Detective Stoddard has suggested.

Testimony at the probable cause hearing then centered around a passerby in the parking lot, where it was suggested that Ross Harris became concerned the passerby would notice he had left his son in his car. The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that in the actual video surveillance, it appears that Justin Ross Harris was not actually concerned about the passerby, but was very attentive to his phone.

These two discrepancies are being touted as two of the many that are reportedly "vilifying" Justin Ross Harris. But the truth about what has vilified Justin Ross Harris is not what that video surveillance shows, but that he was sexting with as many as 6 other women while his son was dying in his car. It is that information that has vilified Justin Ross Harris by the court of public opinion.

If those discrepancies are accurate, that does not make Justin Ross Harris an innocent man. If nothing else, it points further to the notion that he was so distracted by what might be coming in on his phone that day, that those very distractions ended up killing his son.

Was Ross Harris sexting someone from the parking lot that morning, becoming so enchanted and enticed by what was on that phone that he became oblivious to passerby? To his own son?

Does Ross Harris really want the police to focus on that 30 second time frame to find out what was on his phone that was distracting him to the point of Cooper's death?

Is it possible that the police embellished their case to vilify Justin Ross Harris?

This is what was suggested by the Atlanta Journal Constitution, after interviewing with someone close to the accused who is very upset about how Ross Harris is what he considers, unnecessarily vilified.

Is it a credible source that is saying the accused has been vilified? If you consider the brother of the accused to be a credible source, then yes.

Michael Baygents, brother of Ross Harris, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution,

"It's been frustrating to see it portrayed the way it's been by the police department. I'm very angry with them. I think they rushed to judgment. I think Stoddard rushed to judgment. I think he made a terrible mistake. That probable cause hearing was nothing but a character assassination. It was slinging mud at Ross. It was to vilify him in the media and the public and turn the tide of public opinion away from him. The stuff that’s been insinuated just isn’t true. The facts are the facts. Let them stand for what they are."

Is this part of the Justin Ross Harris defense? To accuse law enforcement of not doing their job properly? Does the Ross Harris defense team think that having a relative say on Ross's behalf to the media that, the police said too much is going to help him?

This case is getting more confusing by the minute. If this is a defense strategy, it reminds those that follow high profile trials of antics that Jodi Arias pulled all through her own trial in her efforts to cast light as far away from her as possible, depending on her mood that day.

Jodi Arias is infamous for pointing fingers in the blame game, going to the extremes of calling her victim Travis Alexander a pedophile and an abuser in order to mitigate her defense. They are antics she is still using today, and probably will continue through the Jodi Arias trial when it resumes September 8.

Is this what Ross Harris is doing now? Playing a blame game in an attempt to shine the light off of himself? Is, "the police said too much" going to become part of the Justin Ross Harris strategy?

Some of his former friends are calling him a monster. Ben McRae, the man that stood up for Ross at his wedding and introduced him to Leanna went on television in front of all of their mutual friends, family members, communities they shared in their 15 year long friendship and also in front of a national audience and said, if that information is correct that man is a monster.

Today, Ben McRae still has very strong feelings about the entire situation. His face twitches when he talks about the moment he found out what happened to his friends, and their little boy Cooper. A link from the news outlet WSB TV Atlanta surfaced on Facebook, a link that Ben followed as many would when a local story appears like that, and the rest is the history the media is talking about today.

Ben McRae recently spoke again with media outlets, this time WSB TV Atlanta, saying it was the sexting that turned his point of view around on this case, as it did with many Americans watching this case. Ben has also told WSB TV Atlanta that there is a part inside him that is hoping and "praying to God" that this is all a big mistake somehow.

"I started questioning a lot of things…. It didn’t make sense to me that he could have thought he had dropped him off when he couldn’t. The six different women, the sexting, the doing what he was doing in his office the day Cooper was dying in the car. It made me sick. It was sickening, it really broke my heart. I just want Cooper to be remembered, I just want justice for Cooper."

Ben McRae wants Cooper Harris remembered, and wants justice for Cooper regardless of what the truth is.

A relative of Ross Harris's is saying, if the truth comes out, Ben will get his wish that this was all a big mistake. Ross's brother has alleged that Ross did not want a child free life, and a planned vacation is his evidence for that. To him, that points to police embellishment. In an exclusive interview with the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Michael Baygents brother of the accused said that he and Ross were "happily making arrangements to take their families on a cruise in October."

In an effort to publicly allege via the media that Ross Harris did not want to live a child free life, Ross's brother asserts that Ross had been hounding him about a cruise vacation since Christmas.

"He hounded and hounded me about it. I finally gave him a green light about a month and a half ago. What parent does that unless they are planning for their kids?"

Those that believe that Ross Harris is guilty of wanting a child free life might say in response to that, the kind of people that want to make it look like they were not planning a child free life.

It is not a 30 second period in a parking lot that has enraged America about the death of 22-month-old Cooper Harris. Like Ross's friend Ben, America just wants justice for Cooper, and the details about Ross's day after that 30 second period do not paint a picture of a devoted father and husband.

There is the question about why he told his wife he "dreaded how Cooper would look."

There is the question about why he was sexting a woman on June 5, and when she asked him if he had a conscience, he replied, "Nope."

There is the question about why he drove for several minutes, with his windows up on a hot June day in Georgia, after his son had been baking in his car for 7 hours. Detective Stoddard testified at the probable cause hearing that the stench was "like death." In his notes on finding probable cause to detain Ross and deny bail, Judge Frank Cox wrote on that note specifically saying,

"For him to enter the car….when the child had been dead and rigor mortis had set in, and the testimony is the stench in the car was overwhelming at that point in time, that he – in spite of that – got in the car and drove it for some distance before he took any action to check on the welfare of his child, I find there is probable cause for the two charges contained in the warrant."

Those are just a few of the details that have not been embellished against Ross Harris, and are facts in this case that he will have to answer to when it comes time to trial. It is the combined effect of all of these details that have persuaded the Cobb County courts to detain Ross until his details can be heard by a grand jury.

It is not the media, or even law enforcement that made that decision, it was the Cobb County judge and prosecutors who have made it abundantly clear since the beginning of this case that, this case will not be tried by the media.

It is these details that prompted HLN to investigate further into the claims that law enforcement in this case had, said too much. According to HLN Today, Kim Isaza, the Public Information Officer for the Cobb County District Attorney stated,

"We recognize that the media has had an interest in this case from the outset. Regardless of that interest, the Cobb District Attorney's Office has not nor will it speak substantively about this case while it is pending. In fact, Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct for prosecutors forbids it. The case will ultimately be decided in a court of law, not through the media."

HLN also reported today that Office Michael Bowman for the Cobb County Police Department provided a statement as well in response to the embellishment claims alleged by the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

"[The Cobb County Police] stand by the sworn testimony that Detective Phil Stoddard gave at the hearing…the investigation is still active and ongoing."

At the time of press, Justin Ross Harris is charged with felony murder and second degree child cruelty. Felony murder in the state of Georgia does not require a "finding of intent." Additionally, a grand jury may indict him on those charges, or charges of their own.

Do you think the police have said too much?