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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Dad in Court Over Son's Hot Car Death; Charges Stand, No Bond in Hot Car Death
Aired July 3, 2014 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, it does not change my opinion.
UNIDENTIFIED ATTORNEY: That's all I have, Judge.
JUDGE: Who would help him post a bond if bond was set?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His wife.
JUDGE: Does she have resources that you know of?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think so.
JUDGE: All right, you may step down.
UNIDENTIFIED ATTORNEY: Judge, may I just ask one other question?
JUDGE: You may.
UNIDENTIFIED ATTORNEY: Is it fair to say that your sister-in-law and your family are not people of great wealth.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think so, yes.
UNIDENTIFIED ATTORNEY: Thank you.
JUDGE: You may step down. Any other witnesses?
UNIDENTIFIED ATTORNEY: Alyssa Sellers.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: You're watching a live hearing out of Cobb County, Georgia. We're going to take a quick break and we'll be right back.
TAPPER: I'm Jake Tapper. You're watching THE LEAD. Right now we're cover a live hearing out of Cobb County, Georgia, where a father, Ross Harris, stands accused of leaving his son, scarcely 2 years old, in a hot car to die. The judge, Chief Magistrate Frank Cox, has found probable cause for the case to go forward at trial.
Now we're hearing right now testimony from Penny Harrison. She is the pastor for the Harrises. She is talking about what kind of family they are and the subject right now is whether or not to let Harris out on bond. Let's listen in. PENNY HARRISON, PASTOR OF HARRIS' CHURCH: No, I did not.
UNIDENTIFIED ATTORNEY: Talking about cheating on his wife?
HARRISON: No, I did not.
UNIDENTIFIED ATTORNEY: If he were doing that, would you agree that maybe you don't know everything about Mr. Harris?
HARRISON: I know him in a church setting and that's all.
UNIDENTIFIED ATTORNEY: That's all I have.
JUDGE: You may step down.
HARRISON: Thank you.
JUDGE: Anything else?
UNIDENTIFIED ATTORNEY: No more evidence for purposes of bond, Judge.
JUDGE: What are you asking for Mr. Kilgore?
UNIDENTIFIED ATTORNEY: I'm asking for a $50,000 bond.
JUDGE: Mr. Born?
UNIDENTIFIED ATTORNEY: Judge, we are objecting to bond given all the circumstances. He's committed crimes even before this that I believe speaks volumes when he said, does your conscious ever kick in, and he said no. It's obvious this man is leading two different lives and I don't think he can be trusted.
JUDGE: Well, based on the number one murder charge, obviously, and facing a minimum of life sentence with a minimum mandatory of 30 years in prison, and conceivably in the future a possible death penalty case, the court will deny bond today.
UNIDENTIFIED ATTORNEY: Thank you, Your Honor.
TAPPER: We've been listening to the bond hearing and probable cause hearing for the father who on June 18th left his 22-month-old-year-old son in a car. He died. He was left there all day. One of the most shocking details to come out of this probable cause and bond hearing today, according to one detective's testimony, is that the defendant, Mr. Harris, was allegedly sending and receiving explicit text messages with six different women while he was at work that day and while his 22-month-old son was trapped in a car seat, in a sweltering SUV for seven hours.
One of the recipients of the indecent sex messages was just 17 years old, according to the detective who testified. And now in addition to the charges Mr. Harris faces for the child's death, he may now be charged with felony sexual exploitation of a minor. Let's continue to listen in to the end of this hearing.
UNIDENTIFIED ATTORNEY: How far or how close -- what was the distance between the driver's seat, approximately, and the head area --
TAPPER: Our Martin Savidge is in Marietta, Georgia, right now. Martin, this new evidence that the detective provided today is damning testimony, he's been using it as an example to build his case that this man was living two different lives, cannot be trusted to be out on the street and the judge agreed, at least, for today. What was the reaction inside the courtroom when he presented this information about the sexting that was going on while his little boy was dying in the car outside?
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It depends on who you are looking at from the immediate family, that is his wife, and from the suspect himself, no real reaction, but from others, audible gasps could be heard. And it was stunning. You know, leading up to this hearing, there had been suggestions off the record that authorities were going to present evidence that not only would substantiate the claims that the DA has made, but also negate any reason for bond. That is clearly what has happened.
Most of us thought it seemed a little too much, but now having heard this testimony, it is just stunning. We were told to expect anything. What we heard was just stunning, stunning stuff and it portrays an individual who, at least the DA was trying to claim, was involved in an alternative lifestyle of sexting.
He was sending pornographic images of himself to women at the time that his son is dying in a car. There were multiple objections by the defense saying, look, this has nothing to go to cause here. He may be, perhaps, immoral, but that doesn't mean that's why his son is dying in the car. He kept reiterating to the defense that this was an accident, but it was damning stuff, to be sure.
TAPPER: And Martin, just to recap for those who are just tuning in, the judge ruled that there is probable cause, enough to go forward to trial and denied bond, the defense had asked for a $50,000 bond. Prosecution didn't want any bond at all. They were suggesting he was a flight risk maybe.
SAVIDGE: Right, and going to the fact that he said, look, this is a guy who apparently has multiple lives, who knows what else he's been up to here. So if he feels like he was planning, as they suggest, he wanted to get rid of his son, he wanted to, apparently, separate from his marriage and go off and live with these women he was sexting with, then he might very well be a person who now decides he's got to cut and run.
You heard family members and other friends called to the witness stand and said, no, he would not do that. It is just still amazing. Many people are having a hard time just sort of taking in all the evidence that the D.A. brought out in this particular case. On top of saying, how could you forget a child that is 6 inches away from you with whom you just had breakfast 2 minutes before? There's the common sense argument and then there is this alternative lifestyle argument. And both were extremely powerful today.
TAPPER: And Marty, Ross Harris, the defendant, his brother testified today, his brother is a police sergeant and said that his brother had worked as a dispatcher. I suppose that the defense attorney, Mr. Kilgore, was trying to build a case. This is somebody with deep roots in the community who would never do such a thing and certainly would not plea. But that apparently did not work, at least not today.
SAVIDGE: No, and in fact, that could work against you, because you're also insinuating that Justin Ross Harris, the father here, had insights into how police departments work. That he worked as a dispatcher. Some said he also worked in a jail, so that he would be aware as to how the early investigation might go and that he could have somehow couched his reactions, his statements, his words, to try to cover up that this was an intentional act, again, that's the DA.
In fact, when the officers started talking with him, they noted that he was using their jargon, their police phrasing. So you're right, the defense was trying to say that, look, his half-brother is a police officer. He will not run away, but this is also a guy who knows a lot about how the police operate and that may just not be good.
TAPPER: Martin Savidge, thank you so much. And of course, the most important thing for us to remember is the victim in all of this, 22- month-old-year-old Cooper Harris and our thoughts go to him and those who loved him. We're going to take a very quick break. When we come back, we'll talk with our legal panel about this case and the shocking new details.
Plus, of course, today's other big breaking story, Hurricane Arthur close to landfall, already delivering some danger ahead of the July 4th holiday. We're going to go live to North Carolina where they are bracing for a direct hit coming up next.
UNIDENTIFIED ATTORNEY: He talks about being a guitar player with this girl. She asked him about cheating on his wife. Did she ask him a question about his conscience?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She did.
UNIDENTIFIED ATTORNEY: What did she ask him?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's who?
UNIDENTIFIED ATTORNEY: She's this other girl he is sexting with.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And she does --
UNIDENTIFIED ATTORNEY: Objection.
UNIDENTIFIED ATTORNEY: Same response.
UNIDENTIFIED ATTORNEY: No way relevant to anything.
JUDGE: Final says, he says, Mr. Kilgore. I'm going to allow a question and answer and we're moving on.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She says something to the effect of, do you have a conscious.
UNIDENTIFIED ATTORNEY: And what was his response?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nope.
TAPPER: Breaking news, chief magistrate has denied bond this afternoon in the case against Justin Ross Harris. Ross Harris stands accused of letting his 22-month-old son, Cooper, die in a hot car. Let's bring in CNN legal analyst, Sunny Hostin and Mark Geragos and Paul Callan, and of course, criminal defense attorney, Holly Hughes, to talk about more about this stunning hearing today. Sunny, you were listening to this testimony, your reaction.
SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think it was pretty shocking, Jake, quite frankly. We knew the prosecution had indicated that it had something, it had some sort of motive. They had some sort of theory that this was intentional. Now we know what their theory is. We know that they believe that this was a malicious act. That this was an intentional act.
That this man wanted to live some sort of child-free life. That he was having troubles in his marriage, that he was having troubles financially. That he just wanted out. And I think that is a significant surprise to everyone that's been watching this case, because we now know that these hot car deaths happen all the time. It's almost at epidemic proportions in our country.
We know just last year, over 40 children died this way and I think question on everyone's mind, certainly the question on my mind was, how could a father intentionally bake his boy in a car? And now we know what the prosecution's theory is and it really is horrifying and it's shocking, I think, to everyone.
TAPPER: Mark Geragos, based on what you heard today, how strong of a case do you suspect the prosecution has?
MARK GERAGOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, look, there's so many internal inconsistencies. Sunny's right when she says that now all of a sudden, it looks like they're trying to portray this as an intentional act. If that's the case, why have they charged this case as anything but an intentional act, number one?
Number two, they have this whole theory that, supposedly, he has knowledge of the police, he knows police jargon, he's got the half brother, but at the same time, if he has knowledge of the police, he's out there sexting on his phone, and he's got to know that the first thing the police are going to do is get a warrant now that the U.S. Supreme Court says you've got to do it, on your phone.
And that they're going to find that stuff immediately and that, to me, is perplexing as well. Part of the problem with this kind of a hearing, a preliminary hearing like this, is that generally, it's the prosecution or the police's side of the story, with the exception of the bond portion, and what you're getting here is the snippets of, OK, here's this, here's this, here's this, and most of this is character assassination. I would like to see something that would tie this up, that would give me the idea that this guy intentionally decided he would going to go bake his boy. Because if that's the case, I agree with the judge, that qualifies, even though I have my own philosophical problems with it, the death penalty, but everything that they've shown so far is what I've seen in a lot of these cases when they don't have a whole lot of evidence that's going to show something, what do you do? The prosecution's default is character assassination.
TAPPER: Paul, how about that? With the big question, of course, will all this information about the father allegedly sending these explicit images to women, including a 17-year-old girl, having, you know, perhaps having marital problems, perhaps having financial problems, will that be admissible if this actually ends up in trial?
PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, if it's charged as an intentional murder case, it most certainly will. And let me just lay it out for a moment. On the issue of premeditation and motive, we have evidence that he searched the internet, dozens of sites about how long it takes to kill a baby in a hot car. We know that he also was looking at sites about what life was like in prison. And he was also looking at sites called, child free.
So he was contemplating that right before this occurs. There was then the issue of two life insurance policies on the child. One, over $20,000, one slightly over $2,000. There's a financial motive. Then, we get into the sexting issues. Why would that be relevant? Well, it's relevant because the claim will be, that his marriage was falling apart, he was having relationships with other women, and he was looking to become child free.
So we've got a lot of evidence there of why he would commit such a horrific act. He then proceeds to set the act up, to make it look accidental. And so he sets up this whole scenario, where he tries to look like it was an accident. But, you know, after it's done and he's in custody, I thought one of the more interesting things was. He said to Detective Stoddard, this -- there's no malice involved in this.
And you know why he says that, Jake, because the Georgia murder statute talks about malice aforethought and cruelty in the first degree also talks about malicious intent. So he was quite conscious of trying to set this up to look like an accident. That's how I think -- now, remember, he's presumed innocent. We haven't heard the whole case and Mark Geragos is exactly correct about that. But what I see here are the makings of a very strong and absolutely horrific case of homicide.
TAPPER: Holly, the defense called a witness who described Harris' reaction to finding his young son dead in the car. How compelling did you find that witness?
HOLLY HUGHES, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, I liked the witness, but, Jake, I've got to tell you, and let me thank you for putting me in the cleanup batter position here because all three of our brilliant colleagues in front of me raised excellent points. I practice here. I've been in front of this judge. The ADA who presented today, Chuck Boring and I, prosecuted together.
What happens here in Georgia, everybody hit the nail on the head. There's a lot of hearsay that was admissible in this particular hearing that may or may not ever see the light of day in a trial. There will be motions to keep out a lot of this stuff. It may or may not happen. With respect to Mark's point, when that he talked about, why haven't they charged it as an intentional murder, I would not at all be surprised, after hearing the ADA's closing and hearing what Judge Cox said, they may indict this.
The reason we have a probable cause hearing is because we did not indict it yet. And that's why we needed to have a hearing on the warrant charges. This may go in front of a grand jury as a deliberate, intentional murder.
TAPPER: I want to play that sound, if I can, of the friend describing Ross Harris' reaction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED ATTORNEY: Did it appear to you that it was genuine distress and grief on his part?
LEONARD MADDEN, WITNESSED DAD PULL DEAD SON FROM CAR: It was definitely genuine and very passionate and organic. I felt his pain. I even wept and mourned his son and I've never met him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Holly, did you find that compelling, that testimony?
HUGHES: I did find it compelling, Jake. But, again, you know, we heard from the prosecution witness, the detective, that he is an absolutely horrible man. But a lot of what we heard was that he's a terrible husband. We didn't hear anybody say he was a bad father. When the defense put this witness up to say he was heartbroken. He was distressed. He used powerful words.
He said it was organic, his grief was passionate. He was sincere. He was genuine. I think that was a very compelling witness, but it remains to be seen if we're even going to have a trial, is this going to plead out. They put him on the stand, I think he's going to repeat what he said here, that he felt it was genuine. And that he even cried for the little boy when he saw Justin Harris' grief played out in that parking lot.
TAPPER: All right, Holly Hughes, Sunny Hostin, Mark Geragos and Paul Callan, thank you very much. We'll take a quick break. When we come back, we'll talk to one of our reporters about what it was like inside the courtroom. And how did the mother react to these allegations that her husband was sexting, even sexting an underage girl, we'll talk to our reporter who was inside and saw it all. That's coming up next.
TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. We are following the breaking details coming out of Georgia where Justin Ross Harris has been denied bail. He stands accused of intentionally leaving his 22-month-old son, Cooper, trapped in a car seat to die in a blazing hot SUV.
Our Martin Savidge and Victor Blackwell are in Marietta, Georgia, with the very latest. Victor, you were inside as this shocking testimony happened about the father allegedly sexting, including sexting a 17- year-old. How did the mother, Leana Harris, react?
VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No visible response to that part of the testimony, Jake. However, she started to cry, her parents seemingly next to her, they started to wipe tears when the witnesses started to describe how much this man, Ross Harris, loved his son. And how much he enjoyed spending time with him.
But no response, that we could see, to the allegations that he was sexting up to six women including a teenaged girl. I could tell you also about this crowd. It was standing room only for the entire three-hour proceeding. You know, initially, when we walked up, there were mostly media types. Reporters from television stations, reporters from newspapers covering this.
However, just a few minutes before the doors opened, a large crowd came together, about 50 people, and they all sat together right behind Ross Harris. Leana Harris was part of that group. She sat about three or four rows back. And then people just lined the walls there and everybody stayed until the last moment.
Quite possibly, those people, Jake, are from Stonebridge Church, which literally if I toss this pen in that direction, I can hit Stonebridge Church. Right behind me is the courtroom where he today was denied bond.
TAPPER: Martin, Harris could face the death penalty if he was found guilty. Where does the case go from here? We have about 30 seconds left.
SAVIDGE: It's going to go to a grand jury. We'll await to hear what comes out of that particular. But you're right, this could go from a case now to what could be a death penalty case. It's quite clear that the state, you could argue now, is maintaining that this was intentional and intentional in the worst way. The DA says that he cooked his own child in that car, which is horrific.
TAPPER: It is a horrific case. Martin Savidge, Victor Blackwell, thank you so much. That is it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
I'll now turn you over to Brianna Keilar, who's filling in for Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM", who will have more on this case as well as the hurricane hitting the east coast -- Brianna.