• Ross Harris, witnesses break down recalling day of hot car death

    By: Hope Jensen

    Updated:

    GLYNN COUNTY, Ga. - Ross Harris’ defense team opened day two of the hot car death trial with its opening statement Tuesday morning.

    Defense attorney Maddox Kilgore painted Harris as an engaged dad who loved his son.

    [READ: Minute-by-minute: Day 2 of the Ross Harris trial]

    Harris is on trial for the murder of his 22-month-old son, Cooper. Harris left Cooper inside his car for more than seven hours on June 18, 2014.

    Defense says Harris is responsible for Cooper's death

    Kilgore said there’s no doubt that Harris is responsible for his son’s death, but responsible is different than criminal.

    “The state is right about one very important matter and that is Ross Harris is responsible for his child's death. It's his fault. There's no doubt about it,” Kilgore said as he opened his statement Tuesday.

    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 throughout the day on Channel 2 Action News.

    Kilgore said Harris never tried to blame anyone and called it “the biggest mistake of (his) life.”

    For 90 minutes, Kilgore led jurors through a rebuttal of the state's opening on Monday that characterized Harris as a man who killed his son to escape his wife and life as a father while sexting women and visiting prostitutes.

    [READ: Prosecution makes opening statement in Ross Harris hot car death trial]

    Kilgore went straight into addressing the concerns about Harris sex life and the accusations that he was sexting an underage girl as his son died inside his car.

    "Ross' sex life, no matter how perverse and nasty and wrong that we think it is, it doesn't have a thing in the world to do with the fact that he left that little boy. They're completely unrelated. Got nothing to do with each other ... It isn't some kind of motive to murder the person he loved more than anyone in the world," Kilgore said.


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    Kilgore spent the morning debunking the prosecutions accusation that Harris was living a “double life.” He said Harris loved his son and was planning a cruise for his family, even researching children’s passports the morning of Cooper’s death.

    Kilgore contends that police made up evidence that Harris was researching hot car deaths and and says they are twisting facts to make Harris seem uncaring after his son died.

    During the trial, Harris was seen wiping away tears as Kilgore replayed video from the day Cooper died.

    Harris cried during defense opening statements on Oct. 4, 2016.
    © 2019 Cox Media Group.

    "He had no idea his son was in that car,” Kilgore said about Harris. "He never forgot that he had a son. That wasn't the issue. He just lost awareness that he was in the car."

    Harris showed emotional video from the interview room of Harris crying and hugging his wife.

    "He wept bitterly and cried out to God. Cried out in disbelief," Kilgore said.

    "He wept bitterly and cried out to God. Cried out in disbelief."

    Kilgore promised jurors they'd hear from Harris' ex-wife Leanna. She divorced him months ago, but will testify she does not believe Harris killed his son.

    Leanna Harris pictured with husband Justin Ross Harris and son Cooper

    "Despite what he's done to me, what he's done to us, what he's done to Cooper, he loved that little boy more than anything and she's going to tell you he was a wonderful father," Kilgore said.

    Kilgore closed his statement by saying, “They got it wrong.”

    First witness takes the stand

    After closing opening statements, the first witness took the stand. Cobb County Officer Jacquelyn Piper was one of the first people to encounter Harris on the scene of his son’s death.

    She described Harris behavior as unusual.

    Cobb County Officer Jacquelyn Piper was one of the first people to encounter Harris on the scene of his son's death. She testified that Ross Harris' behavior was considered strange given the circumstances.
    © 2019 Cox Media Group.

    She described his screams as "that monotone yelling that just seemed sort of forced."

    "I told him that he was being detained and he said, 'For what?' and I couldn't respond," Piper said.

    "I told him that he was being detained and he said, 'For what?' and I couldn't respond."

    She says Harris didn't act the way she expected of someone who had just lost a child.

    "Do you think he should have been crying more?" Kilgore asked Piper. "I think it's unusual that he was not with his son," Piper answered.

    Kilgore said before forming her opinions, Piper knew nothing about Harris' personality.

    "You don't know if he's the kind of person who's stoic or if he shows a lot of emotion, do you? You certainly don't know how Ross deals with trauma, do you?" Kilgore said in closing of his cross-examination.

    Two witnesses take the stand

    The first two witnesses on the scene on June 18, 2014, took the stand on Tuesday.

    Both Anthony Patano and James Hawkins performed CPR on Cooper once Harris pulled him out of the car.

    They said Harris initially appeared distraught, but then didn't show much emotion. Patano said Harris did a few chest compressions then got up and walked away. When Hawkins arrived, he continued CPR.

    James Hawkins of Kennesaw, Ga. was working at a nearby restaurant when he saw Ross Harris pull over. Hawkins performed CPR on Cooper until police arrived.
    © 2019 Cox Media Group.

    "I did a couple puffs in his mouth and after the second one I looked up and shook my head. He was gone," Hawkins said on the stand.

    "I looked up and shook my head. He was gone." 

    At one point, Hawkins teared up talking about what Cooper looked like lying on the ground.

    After their testimonies, the judge adjourned court for the day.

    Hurricane could impact trial

    Witness testimony will continue at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

    Right now, Hurricane Matthew is expected to impact the Brunswick area at the end of the week.

    Court administrator Tom Charron told Channel 2's Ross Cavitt that the court expects an update from the sheriff Wednesday morning on their preparations for the approaching hurricane.  The assumption is that the trial may be canceled Friday and that Thursday is "iffy."

    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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