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CNN NEWSROOM

Georgia Dad in Court in Son's Hot Car Death.

Aired July 3, 2014 - 14:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's take you back inside this Cobb County court. This is defense attorney, Maddox Kilgore, now.

MADDOX KILGORE, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Five days later, the 24th? Six days later?

PHILIP STODDARD, COBB COUNTY POLICE DEPARTMENT: Five or six days, yeah.

KILGORE: OK. So at that time you had done five or six days of investigation.

STODDARD: Yes, sir.

KILGORE: OK. And you then stepped the warrant back to cruelty in the second degree.

STODDARD: I would argue it's not a step back.

KILGORE: OK. You went from basically an allegation of willful to negligence.

STODDARD: Yes, sir.

KILGORE: Criminal negligence, right?

STODDARD: That is correct.

KILGORE: Was there, like, one particular piece of evidence or so that caused you to make that change in the warrant?

STODDARD: No. There's multiple pieces of evidence.

KILGORE: OK. That during that five or six days caused you to go from willful to criminal negligence.

STODDARD: Yes, sir.

KILGORE: OK. What was -- what would you say was the primary piece of evidence that caused you to move from willfulness to negligence?

STODDARD: The primary was -- is how it's worded. And it was -- the medical examiner's report came back and he came back and said it was hyperthermia. Before we were going with dehydration, lack of sustenance. The child did die from the neglect of being left in that car seat. KILGORE: And that was -- that was why the decision was made to get a

warrant for second degree.

STODDARD: Yes, sir.

KILGORE: You are the case agent, right?

STODDARD: That is correct.

KILGORE: OK. So you -- you pretty much know everything -- all the information flows to and through you, right?

STODDARD: We try.

KILGORE: OK. Well, you got computer crimes involved in this. You've got a lot of moving parts. They all report back to you.

STODDARD: They all issue reports, yes, sir.

KILGORE: OK. And you keep up with that, and you know what's going on.

STODDARD: I try.

KILGORE: All right. Let's talk about the scene for a moment. At the scene, you -- did you personally ever go to the scene?

STODDARD: I did.

KILGORE: All right. And at what time did you get there?

STODDARD: I got there about 5:07: p.m.

KILGORE: OK. What was going on at the scene when you got there?

STODDARD: When I got to the scene, the scene had been secured. Detectives were walking in the scene in their cursory views. Crime scene was on-scene, starting their photographs.

KILGORE: OK. And did you talk to the officers at the scene?

STODDARD: I did.

KILGORE: Who were the officers at the scene?

STODDARD: I spoke with Officer Piper and Officer Foglia.

KILGORE: Piper and who?

STODDARD: Foglia.

KILGORE: OK.

And had those officers interviewed witnesses at the scene?

STODDARD: They had. KILGORE: Do you know who they interviewed?

STODDARD: I do not.

KILGORE: Did you interview witnesses at the scene?

STODDARD: I did not.

KILGORE: Do you know if there was any detective that interviewed witnesses at the scene?

STODDARD: Yes.

KILGORE: Who was that?

STODDARD: Detective Raissi was on the scene, Detective Murphy.

KILGORE: Did you say Racy (sic)?

STODDARD: Raissi.

KILGORE: How do you spell that?

STODDARD: R-A-I-S-S-I.

KILGORE: OK. And Detective Murphy?

STODDARD: And Detective Murphy. And I believe both of them interviewed witnesses.

KILGORE: OK. Do you have a list of those who were interviewed?

STODDARD: I do.

KILGORE: All right. Can you tell me who those folks were?

STODDARD: I cannot.

KILGORE: How many were interviewed?

STODDARD: Multiple.

KILGORE: They didn't all give exactly the same story, did they?

STODDARD: No, sir.

KILGORE: In fact, you interviewed several witnesses who told you that Mr. Harris was absolutely hysterical at that scene.

STODDARD: I didn't interview anybody at the scene.

KILGORE: Some of your detectives interviewed witnesses who told you or told them that Mr. Harris was absolutely hysterical.

STODDARD: I would say that is true.

KILGORE: There were witnesses who told some of your detectives that he was crying at the scene.

STODDARD: I don't recall anybody saying he was crying.

KILGORE: Screaming.

STODDARD: I would go with screaming.

KILGORE: In shock.

STODDARD: I don't recall those words being used.

KILGORE: OK. Dazed.

STODDARD: I'll go with dazed.

KILGORE: OK. And did you record all those interviews?

STODDARD: I did not.

KILGORE: Well, when I say you, I'm talking about the Cobb County Police Department. I know you didn't do it all.

UNIDENTIFIED JUDGE: You need to be more specific in your question.

KILGORE: Did your detectives record those interviews?

STODDARD: Yes, sir, they did.

KILGORE: OK. All right. And did your detectives get the names of the EMTs there, as well?

STODDARD: They did, sir.

KILGORE: OK. Of the witnesses that were there on the scene, isn't that true that some of them actually reported seeing Mr. Harris down on the ground trying to give CPR to Cooper?

STODDARD: Yes, sir.

KILGORE: OK. And then there were some who didn't see that.

STODDARD: That is correct.

KILGORE: So there were stories really all over the place, weren't they?

STODDARD: Yes.

KILGORE: OK. But they all agreed that it was absolute chaos, didn't they?

STODDARD: I wouldn't use those words, but --

KILGORE: Do you remember if you -- if one of your detectives interviewed a witness by the name of Leonard Madden, M-A-D-D-E-N?

STODDARD: I do not know, sir.

KILGORE: You have no idea what Mr. Madden would have seen if he was there?

STODDARD: No, sir.

KILGORE: OK.

BALDWIN: Stay right here. Quick break. Back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Now let's jump back in. This is cross examination, the defense attorney questioning this detective of this case of this father in Cobb County accused of felony murder for leaving his 22- month-old child in this car on a 90-something-degree day in Georgia. We have a lot of analysis. This is pretty tough testimony to listen to. But first, let's take it in.

STODDARD: -- the six-minute phone call. They do not have a six- minute messaging system there. So he was speaking, and it's an apparent he was speaking with somebody.

KILGORE: OK. And you learned during the interview that he was trying to reach Little Aprons before his wife got there, to let them know, hey, keep her there, because she's going to find out about this.

STODDARD: Correct.

KILGORE: That's why he was trying to reach Little Aprons, right?

STODDARD: That is correct.

KILGORE: And that certainly would be consistent with someone who is an absolute panic at that time, correct?

STODDARD: I would say it would be reasonable.

KILGORE: OK. When he was driven away from the scene in the cruiser, was Ross taken directly to persons to be interviewed?

STODDARD: Yes, sir.

KILGORE: All right. When he got to "persons," how long was he there? Before he was interviewed?

STODDARD: I don't have those times in front of me, sir.

KILGORE: Well, do you think it was more than an hour?

STODDARD: I would say less than an hour.

KILGORE: OK. And during the time he was there, he was in a cell, right?

STODDARD: No. KILGORE: No? He was just in a lobby?

STODDARD: He was unhandcuffed. He was placed into the interview room and given water.

KILGORE: OK. And you recorded all of that.

STODDARD: That's all recorded.

KILGORE: Sure. So anything he said or did, regardless of how it may be characterized, we're going to get to see at some point, right?

STODDARD: Yes, sir.

KILGORE: And then who came in there to speak with him?

STODDARD: I did and Detective Waldorf.

KILGORE: Who?

STODDARD: Waldorf.

KILGORE: Waldorf.

STODDARD: With the crimes against children's unit.

KILGORE: So by the time you sat down to interview him, he had just seen the body of his son. At that juncture, less than three hours.

STODDARD: Yes.

KILGORE: Less than two hours?

STODDARD: We'll say less than three for now.

KILGORE: OK. Certainly sufficiently short period of time where somebody absolutely could still be in shock, correct?

STODDARD: Correct.

KILGORE: And at this point in time, when you spoke to him in that interview room, he had not had an opportunity to see his wife, speak to his wife, or have any interaction with her at all, had he?

STODDARD: That is correct.

KILGORE: During the interview, was he expressing to you concerns about what in the world he was going to say to his wife?

STODDARD: Yes.

KILGORE: And he wanted to talk to her.

STODDARD: Correct.

KILGORE: And that would not be a remarkable or unusual concern for somebody in this situation, would it?

STODDARD: I would say no.

KILGORE: How long was the interview?

STODDARD: I believe the interview was about -- I'm going to say approximately, but around an hour, hour and a half.

KILGORE: And it's audio and video.

STODDARD: It is audio and video.

KILGORE: OK. So you went through the events of the day.

STODDARD: That is correct.

KILGORE: You didn't -- you didn't discover that Ross had taken Cooper to Chick-Fil-A. He told you that.

STODDARD: Correct.

KILGORE: He told you that they went there, they went inside. They ordered breakfast and had breakfast there.

STODDARD: Correct.

KILGORE: And have you gone to Chick-Fil-A to get a recording of those events?

STODDARD: We have.

KILGORE: OK. And did you review those?

STODDARD: I have.

KILGORE: And it's fair to say that what Ross told you about what transpired at Chick-Fil-A, that was accurate?

STODDARD: True.

KILGORE: Who -- who have you talked to at Chick-Fil-A, or who did some of the detectives talk to at Chick-Fil-A.

STODDARD: They talked to the manager.

KILGORE: Do you know who that is?

STODDARD: I don't. Well, it's an owner operator --

BALDWIN: Let's get analysis as we're listening to this defense attorney cross-examination this detective in this case of this father in Georgia, who is sitting in that orange jumpsuit right there right now, who is Justin Ross Harris, who left his 22-month-old, Cooper, in that hot car in June.

Sunny Hostin and Ashleigh Banfield are with me. Sunny, let me bring your voice in, your prosecutorial voice, and that

of a mom. Listening to all these new details, initially, it's a probable-cause hearing. You want to see if you have enough evidence to go to trial. What are you hearing?

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, certainly, they're going to prove probable cause. We know that. And probable cause is a very low threshold, and so that was never really an issue here.

But let's face it, Brooke. I think we're all horrified at what we're hearing.

BALDWIN: Disgusting.

HOSTIN: Most people, myself included, were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, the benefit of reasonable doubt. Again, because these accidental deaths happen all of the time. And he was claiming accident. Now the prosecution has, in my view, placed before the world its theory. And that is a theory that includes motive. We're talking about a marriage that's failing, a marriage that's in trouble. Someone who is sexting, searching, how to live a child-free life. Someone with financial difficulty that has two insurance policies, life insurance policies, out on this little boy. When you take all of that in front of a jury, because, as I often say in these cases, you don't have to prove motive. It's not an element of the crime, but a juror, my goodness, needs to hear why a father, which is so unusual, would bake his child to death. I can tell you, Brooke, after hearing all of this, any juror that hears this evidence of motive will convict.

BALDWIN: Ashleigh Banfield, just bringing you in. We were talking about really just difficult details. When I heard this detective describing the scratches on the face of this 22-month-old as he was strapped inside this car seat from early in the morning until the afternoon, perhaps scratching, scratching, as the car is getting so, so hot. And just a little color inside the courtroom that we're getting from one of our producers, as we have been looking at Justin Harris sitting in the orange jump jumpsuit, visually motionless, the wife, Leanna, also sitting in the courtroom. And from what I'm looking at, she's just been blank look on her face, and just staring straight ahead -- Ashleigh?

BANFIELD: Well, there has been a lot to take in. I don't know how much of this she already knew or how much of this she is learning for the first time. But I'll tell you where I'm laser-focused, Brooke, on that man in the orange. There has been nothing, nothing when they describe what you just talked about, the injuries on that child's face.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Motionless.

BANFIELD: Nothing. When they called out the condition of the child lying on the pavement, nothing. When they talked about how they were both notified of what had happened, nothing. No demeanor at all. "No tears" is what this detective actually said. Not from the father, not from the mother. I've covered cases where that's happened. So I'll let that go. But I'm having a really tough time letting some other stuff go.

BALDWIN: Like what?

BANFIELD: I'm -- well, where should I begin? They said they have only scratched the surface on what they're looking for on those hard drives. So I'm waiting to find out what's going to happen in the toxicology report. Because if this man was looking at child-free lives and how to die in a hot car whether you're an animal or child, perhaps he knew what kind of pain would be involved and thus if there is some toxicology to suggest that there is a drug that would, you know, mitigate that pain. Just wait, because that takes some time. It takes about six weeks, usually, depending on the jurisdiction and the busyness at the labs. I have a feeling they'll rush this case. But when that toxicology comes back, that will be a fascinating fact. It just -- everything all together and the motive now that they have established, the financial difficulties, the searching for the issues of being child-free, and this sexting with a 16-year-old. Now they're talking about the exploitation of a minor. So what you're looking at now, these two charges, tip of the iceberg, tip of the iceberg.

BALDWIN: Just hearing what this father apparently said to the wife inside of this room, alone, saying -- describing the state of Cooper, when he had died that he was peaceful, his eyes were closed, and to hear the detective say, no, he wasn't.

Quick break. Back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Back inside this Cobb County, Georgia, courtroom, cross- examination as part of this probable cause and bond hearing involving this 22-month-old baby boy left who was in a sweltering hot SUV just a couple weeks ago. Take a listen.

STODDARD: One of the colleagues just announced a blurb of a chat log that's not really readable.

KILGORE: OK. So if, in fact, that chat log indicated that during the day the three of these gentlemen talked about interns working there, which school had the most interns, talking about going to lunch, talking about going to Publix, talking about going to a movie later in the day, that would be completely consistent with whatever Ross told you.

STODDARD: Except with the interns and the peripheral stuff but -- so I would say no.

KILGORE: Did Ross tell you that one of his colleagues was going to go buy the tickets ahead of time.

STODDARD: True.

KILGORE: OK. And you checked that out, and that was true? STODDARD: Yes, it was.

KILGORE: And it's true that, in fact, where he pulled over there off Akers Mill road, that was on the way to the movie.

STODDARD: Correct.

KILGORE: And where his office is, he had to go that direction toward the movie?

STODDARD: Correct.

KILGORE: And when he pulled off, he had to take a right into the shopping center where Cinco is.

STODDARD: Yes, sir.

KILGORE: And his car literally was pulled in the middle of the road, wasn't it?

STODDARD: That is correct.

KILGORE: And you said one of the witnesses said he literally just heard screeching, the car came to a stop, and the man just jumped out.

STODDARD: Yes, sir.

KILGORE: OK. So other than the fact that there was a trip for the light bulbs, which were tossed in the car, was there anything of a significant -- that you think intentionally didn't tell you about?

STODDARD: Well, except leaving his son in the car.

KILGORE: He told you he left his son in the car, right?

STODDARD: And I will give you that. No.

KILGORE: On Monday night of this week, some of your detectives executed a search warrant at the home of Ross' wife, correct?

STODDARD: That's correct.

And if I may, the previous answer I gave, he also failed to tell us anything about the sexting and for lack of a better term.

KILGORE: All right. Did you ask about that?

STODDARD: I did not.

KILGORE: OK. Well, he didn't mislead you or lie about it, did he?

STODDARD: No. He just forgot or left out.

KILGORE: And, in fact, that's got absolutely nothing to do with this accident whatsoever, then it's not relevant, is it?

STODDARD: I believe it is relevant.

KILGORE: OK.

BALDWIN: Quick break. Back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: And we take you back to this probable cause and bond hearing in Cobb County, Georgia. This father, who we are honed in on, sitting right there the left of your screen in that orange prison jumpsuit, this is the father who is now sitting accused of felony murder in the 22-month-old son, 22 months of age, Cooper, death in the hot car just a couple weeks ago. Take a listen. Cross-examination now.

KILGORE: Anything out of the glove box? You didn't see him pick anything up off the floor? You didn't see him look in the back seat? You didn't see him look over the back seat? You didn't see him looking around? See if anybody was watching? You didn't see any of that on that video, did you?

STODDARD: Not at the car.

KILGORE: OK. Because if you would have seen it in the video, it would have been in the warrant, right?

STODDARD: Possibly.

KILGORE: He just tossed the light bulbs in, closes the door and walks away?

STODDARD: Yes, sir.

KILGORE: The car seat in Ross' car, we've seen in that photograph, is a rear-facing car seat?

STODDARD: Correct.

KILGORE: It's in the middle of the -- in the middle of the back seat?

STODDARD: Correct.

KILGORE: So if he's on the driver's side, that car seat would be to his -- behind him to his right?

STODDARD: Correct.

KILGORE: Did you ever ask Ross if he had any sort of physical limitations which might impair his ability to see or hear Ross or anything like that?

STODDARD: He said he had no medical conditions.

KILGORE: OK. Did you ask him what medical conditions he had?

STODDARD: I asked him if he had any medical conditions, or if he was under the care of a physician, I think is my exact words. KILGORE: Let's be exact.

STODDARD: Well --

KILGORE: You asked him if he was under the care of a physician.

STODDARD: I don't have my notes here in front of me, sir. So we're going to say --

(CROSSTALK)

KILGORE: All right. Well I'm going to restate my question. I apologize.

STODDARD: OK.

KILGORE: Did you ever ask him directly if he had any kind of physical limitations which might impair his ability to see or hear his child?

STODDARD: Not directly.

KILGORE: OK. Would that be something that would be relevant to --

BALDWIN: Quick, quick break. Back right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)