BRUNSWICK, Ga. (AP) — The video clips were cute enough to make jurors laugh as they watched Justin Ross Harris try to teach his son to say “banana” and let the toddler strum on his guitar. They were joyful moments captured in the months before the child died after being left in a hot car by his father.
The videos capped several hours of testimony Monday by Harris’ ex-wife, who is a defense witness at Harris’ murder trial. Prosecutors wasted little time on cross-examination reminding Leanna Taylor, who divorced Harris earlier this year, and the jury that the former husband she described as a loving dad had a much darker side.
Harris is charged with murder in the June 2014 death of his 22-month-old son, Cooper. Taylor testified Monday that Harris never would have left the child to die on purpose — which prosecutors say is exactly what he did.
Evidence in the trial, now in its fifth week, has shown Harris was sending sexual text messages to a teenage girl from his workplace while his son was dying outside in a parking lot. Prosecutor Chuck Boring reminded Taylor that less than three weeks earlier, when Harris told her he was helping a friend move, he had met with a prostitute for sex.
“He was caught up in a double life up until and on the day of Cooper’s death and you didn’t know,” Boring said.
“I would agree that I did not know the depth,” Taylor replied.
“And the depth was a lot darker than anything you could have imagined, wasn’t it?” Boring said.
Cross-examination of Taylor was to resume Tuesday. She earlier told jurors that she and Harris had problems with their sex life, but he was an equal and enthusiastic partner when it came to parenthood.
“He wanted to be the one to push him on a swing. He wanted to be the one to slide down the slide with him,” Taylor said of her ex-husband. “He wanted to enjoy every second he could with him.”
Jurors got a look at Harris’ family life when defense attorney Maddox Kilgore had Taylor walk them through a series of photos and video clips from Cooper’s birth to a family trip shortly before his death.
Harris, who rarely looked at his former wife from his seat at the defense table, at times cried during her testimony. But he smiled brightly watching the videos of their son. Some jurors laughed at the clips.
“Did Ross love his little boy?” Kilgore asked Taylor.
“Yes, he did,” she answered. “Very much.”
Prosecutors say Harris wanted to escape the responsibilities of family life and spent his time seeking sexual relationships both online and in person with women outside his marriage.
Taylor said he told her years earlier he watched pornography and they sought counseling. She also had caught him sending text messages to other women, but testified she did not know he was meeting some of them for sex.
“If I had, I would have divorced him then,” she said.
By the summer of 2014, Harris was trying to plan for the three of them to take a family cruise, Taylor said. They also had begun talking with a real estate agent about buying a home in metro Atlanta, where Harris worked as a web developer for Home Depot after they moved from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in 2012. Taylor said her husband wanted to make sure they lived in a good school district.
That all came to halt the day Taylor showed up to pick Cooper up from daycare and learned he was never dropped off that day. Earlier that day, Harris sent her a text message asking: “When you getting my buddy?”
She said she rushed to her husband’s nearby office.
“The only thing that made sense to me, based on what I knew that day, was Ross must have left him in the car,” Taylor said.
Cobb County police detectives soon arrived and confirmed her fears.