• Judge denies defense's request for mistrial in hot car death trial

    By: Hope Jensen

    GLYNN COUNTY, Ga. - The judge denied the defense’s request for a mistrial Thursday in the Ross Harris hot car death trial.


    Day 15 Quick Facts

    • Jurors see Harris' SUV in which Cooper died
    • Defense asks for a mistrial, calling the jury viewing disastrous
    • Judge denies the mistrial
    • A sixth woman who sexted with Harris took the stand
    • An expert said Harris deleted his search history before his son's death
    • Jurors are set to see a 3D animation of the crime scene on Friday

    Harris is accused of killing his 22-month-old son, Cooper, by intentionally leaving him inside a hot car for nearly seven hours. He is facing eight charges, including malice murder.

    Channel 2’s Ross Cavitt and Carl Willis are in Brunswick, where the trial is being held. They will have updates from inside the courtroom on Channel 2 Action News.

    Thursday morning, jurors were allowed to view the SUV in which Cooper Harris died.

    Before the jury was allowed to view Harris' SUV, lawyers examined it to make sure they were satisfied with the placement of the car seat and the overall view of the car.
    Before the jury was allowed to view Harris' SUV, lawyers examined it to make sure they were satisfied with the placement of the car seat and the overall view of the car.
    © 2019 Cox Media Group.

    The car was placed in a parking lot at the courthouse, and jurors were allowed to walk around it twice with the door open, twice with the door closed and then view it freely for five minutes.

    Defense asks for mistrial

    After the viewing, lawyers returned to the courtroom, and the defense immediately asked for a mistrial. He argued that the viewing “denied (Harris) a fair trial.”

    Kilgore said jurors leaned into the car and looked around, which is inconsistent with what Harris did that day.

    "So what we're left with is exactly what I warned about months ago ... We're in a situation now where jurors have been given free rein to substitute their vantage point, their viewpoint for the evidence, for what Mr. Harris could, or could not see from his height, from his viewpoint," Kilgore said.


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    Kilgore said Harris is 6 feet 2 inches and many of the jurors are much shorter than that.

    "It allows them to substitute what they could, or could not see for what Mr. Harris could, or could not see,” he said.

    Kilgore continued his argument, calling the viewing disastrous.

    Defense Attorney Maddox Kilgore asks the judge for a mistrial after jurors were able to view Ross Harris' SUV.
    Defense Attorney Maddox Kilgore asks the judge for a mistrial after jurors were able to view Ross Harris' SUV.
    © 2019 Cox Media Group.

    [Minute-by-minute: Day 15 of the Ross Harris hot car death trial]

    “I think it's completely messed the trial up … This was a disaster. It was an absolute disaster, judge. There's no way around it. He's been absolutely denied a fair trial after that little recreation that occurred outside. There is no other option but a mistrial,” he said.

    The judge disagreed and denied his request. She said the car is a piece of evidence and the jury had a right to view it.

    "It is an exhibit in the case and they have a right to evaluate it, along with all the other evidence of the case. There was not a recreation," Judge Mary Staley said. "It was a very structured and limited opportunity for jurors to inspect an item of evidence relevant to their task and their job as a jury to evaluate the evidence and apply the law and render a verdict that speaks the truth to this case."

    She said it could even be argued that the jurors didn't get a fair view because they weren't allowed to go inside.

    "An argument can be made that the limiting manner in which the vehicle was established and set up was too restrictive, not too generous," Staley said.


    Another chat partner takes the stand

    The state called another woman, who Harris was sexting with on the day of his son's death, to the stand. Angela Cornett was the sixth chat partner to take the stand.

    Cornett said they met on the messaging app Scout and their conversations were purely sexual. 

    "He gave me a kind of creepy feeling, kind of sketchy," she said.

    She said Harris never expressed unhappiness with his marriage, but did say "he just wanted to sleep with as many different women as possible."

    She was messaging with Harris until 3:04 p.m. on the day of Cooper's death.

    Expert says Harris deleted search history

    An expert who looked through Harris' phone and computer records said Harris deleted his search history less than two weeks before his son's death.

    On Harris' phone, Jim Persinger said the only data available was from June 17 and 18, meaning Harris manually deleted his history.

    Jim Persinger works for PM Investigations, a company that specializes in digital forensics and cyber analysis. He says he received forensic images of Ross Harris' computers.
    Jim Persinger works for PM Investigations, a company that specializes in digital forensics and cyber analysis. He says he received forensic images of Ross Harris' computers.
    © 2019 Cox Media Group.

    On the computer, Persinger said he found records that the Google Chrome history was manually deleted on June 6, 2014. He said the Firefox history was left intact.

    "It's extremely suspicious to me that you have one browser where he clears his cache (and) the other one where he leaves it intact," Persinger said.

    Prosecutors asked Persigner to talk about a few specific websites that Harris visited.

    Persinger said between April 18, 2014 and the day his son died, Harris visited a psychology website that specializes in information on interviewing witnesses, jury selection and forensic evaluations. Prosecutors said Harris was doing some work for that company at the time.

    He also visited a private internet access website that helps hide your identity on the internet and allows you to use the internet without being tracked. 

    The defense argued that Harris was a web developer and many of the websites he visited, including the private internet access site and the psychology site, were related to his business.

    The day before his son's death, Persinger said Harris was searching for a vacation in July or August for two adults and no children.

    Persinger said Harris also visited a website on May 9 , 2014 that held a checklist for divorce. The website was titled, "Divorce, Legal Separation Checklist." Persinger said that's the website Harris clicked on after searching the term "name change" internally on the Home Depot website.

    When questioned by the defense about searches for divorce lawyers, or hot car deaths specifically, Persinger said there was not enough history on Google Chrome for him to determine what Ross Harris had and had not searched.

    He said Harris was "crafty" about what he told detectives, including his comments about the hot car video made by a veterinarian.

    "June the 13th, that dog video came out. Maybe he's crafty enough that he said, 'I gotta tell them about that because I didn't hit the delete button to get rid of my history.' He knew that video was there," Persinger said. "I believe that some of the methods he used to hide the information, to delete the information was an intentional move, so yes, I think he's crafty."


    What's next?

    The last witness of the day, David Dustin, owns Dustin Forensics, a company that specializes in 3D laser scanning. 

    Dustin created the 3D animation of the crime scene for this case.

    Tomorrow, the prosecution plans to play that video for jurors.

    Dustin is the prosecution's final witness and they are expected to wrap up their case after Dustin's testimony concludes on Friday.

    You can watch the entire trial LIVE on WSBTV.com/Ross-Harris-Trial. We will have minute-by-minute coverage as well as a daily summary from the courtroom each day. Like Ross Harris Updates on Facebook and follow @RossHarrisTrial on Twitter for updates throughout the trial.

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