Focus shifts to mother of toddler in hot car death

Published: Sunday, July 06, 2014 @ 4:31 AM
Updated: Sunday, July 06, 2014 @ 4:33 AM

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Leanna Harris’ husband, prosecutors alleged Thursday, had two sides: Churchgoing family man and another, darker persona, one that compelled Ross Harris to knowingly leave their 22-month-old son to die, locked inside a sweltering SUV.

Based on her own, sometimes confounding words, along with evidence disclosed at her spouse’s probable cause hearing Thursday, many are wondering whether there’s another side to Leanna Harris.

>> RELATED: Prosecutors: Father was sexting while child sat in hot car

The 30-year-old dietitian, who two years ago moved to Georgia from Tuscaloosa, Ala., has not been charged with any crime. But police have disclosed that, like her husband, she had researched children dying in hot vehicles prior to her son Cooper’s death, telling officers it was her “worst fear.” On average, 38 kids die each year after being trapped inside automobiles, according to KidsAndCars.org.

Investigators described her behavior the day of her son Cooper’s death as odd, if not suspicious.

When informed by workers at her son’s day care facility that Cooper had never been dropped off, she calmly responded, “Ross must have left him in the car. There’s no other explanation,” according to Cobb County Police Det. Phil Stoddard’s testimony Thursday.

Then, when reunited with her husband at police headquarters after he had been charged with murder, Leanna Harris asked him, “Did you say too much?” according to Stoddard.

“There isn’t enough to make her a co-conspirator … yet,” said criminal defense lawyer Esther Panitch.

>> RELATED: Photos: Dad accused in son’s hot car death appears in court

Whatever Leanna Harris’ role winds up being in this case — witness, defendant or supportive wife — prosecutors and the public are taking note of her public actions. What they’ve seen so far is stoicism that seems at odds with what has become a public tragedy.

She has expressed little emotion throughout. At Thursday’s hearing, she stared blankly ahead, chewing gum as prosecutors delivered one bombshell after another.

When she called home June 18 with the grim news of Cooper’s death, her mother could be overheard on the phone: “Why aren’t you crying? Why aren’t you reacting?”

Her response, according to Stoddard: “I must be in shock.”

Then there was her eulogy at Cooper’s funeral last Saturday in Tuscaloosa. To those who don’t know her, Leanna Harris’ comment that she wouldn’t bring her son back, even if she could, seemed suspicious.

>> RELATED: Police: Father who left child in hot car charged with murder

“He’s in the most peaceful, wonderful place there is,” Leanna Harris said.

But the 250 or so mourners who gathered at University Church of Christ gave her two rounds of applause, and Harris’ statement is not unusual among the deeply religious who believe the afterlife is God’s greatest gift.

Still, it’s clear, according to veteran legal observers, that police are looking at Leanna Harris’ potential culpability in her son’s death. On Thursday, Cobb County District Attorney Vic Reynolds said the investigation continues and “much work remains,” though he offered no details on where the probe may be headed.

“Knowledge of a crime isn’t prosecutable. A cover-up is,” Panitch said.

But if, as many increasingly believe, her husband ends up facing more significant murder charges, prosecutors may seek to use Leanna Harris as a witness. In Georgia, the spousal privilege shielding a wife from testifying against her husband, and vice-versa, doesn’t apply in cases of domestic violence or death of a child.

>> RELATED: 'I’ve killed our child,' dad screams over tiny body

“She needs to make a deal before the state finds more evidence against her,” Panitch said.

So far, Leanna Harris has remained loyal to her husband of seven years. At Cooper’s funeral, she said she holds no anger toward her husband.

“Ross is and was a wonderful father,” she said. As Ross Harris listened from jail on speaker phone, his wife told him, “I love you and I’m doing this for you.”

It’s unclear whether Leanna Harris knew then of her spouse’s “sexting” habits, first disclosed publicly during Thursday’s hearing. Friends and family shielded her from reporters as she left the courtroom and insist she’s a woman of strong faith who treasured her role as wife and mother. Ross Harris’ half-brother, Randy Michael Baygents, a police officer for nearly two decades, said Thursday had Ross Harris been released on bond he would have returned home.

“What you saw here is what is truly in her,” the Harris’ pastor, David Eldridge, said at Cooper’s funeral. “There is an example here for all of us on how to deal with things.”

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Her eulogy was part memorial, part confessional.

“Some of you might wonder how I’m standing here today and I ask myself the same question,” Leanna Harris said. “I should be crumpled into a pile of tears and snot on the ground. (The Lord) is standing behind me, holding me up.”

She spoke of her difficulties getting pregnant and her awkward teen years.

“Junior high and senior high — they weren’t the happiest times (for me),” she said, listing heartbreaks her son would be spared. “He won’t have to suffer through the death of his (grandparents). He won’t have to suffer through the death of me and Ross.”

In his closing prayer, Eldridge said, “I’m not sure there’s a better testimony to who You are or what You do than Leanna.”

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Bear kills dog, seriously injures another in Florida subdivision

Published: Thursday, April 26, 2018 @ 12:17 AM

(File photo)
(File photo)

Residents of a Seminole County, Florida, neighborhood were on high alert Wednesday because of an aggressive bear that killed one dog and seriously injured another one in recent days.

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The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission set traps in The Estates at Springs Landing subdivision along Markham Woods Road near Longwood to try to catch the bear, which killed a dog late Tuesday, days after injuring another.

The bear tore through a pool screen Tuesday and grabbed Maggie, Russell Nusynowitz's 15-year-old poodle.

His wife ran into the home as the bear killed the family dog and took her into the yard.

The attack came two days after Rick Mann encountered a bear and two yearlings in his garage. FWC believes the same bear was involved in both attacks.

When his 5-year-old Maltese-Yorkie mix, Reese, barked, the bear attacked, clamping down on the dog twice.

"When she came back the second time, I grabbed whatever I could," Mann said. "There was a vacuum cleaner there. I started swinging at her."

Reese underwent five hours of surgery.

"He's got seven puncture wounds, a bruised liver, a bruised kidney, numerous lacerations," said Roxane Mann, Rick Mann's wife. "Just a lot of issues. But he's hanging tough."

Roxanne Mann said the bear opened the refrigerator in the garage and helped herself to the food it contained, showing no fear of humans.

"The fact that she was starting to leave the garage and then came back to attack for the second time was very uncommon for a bear," Rick Mann said.

Word is spreading about the brave dog that stood up to the bear to protect his owner. The veterinarian who has been treating Reese has collected more than $1,000 in donations to help pay the vet bills.

FWC said area residents should keep their garage doors closed, not leave food outside and keep dogs on a leash.

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George H.W. Bush recovering after infection, moved out of intensive care

Published: Wednesday, April 25, 2018 @ 2:44 PM
Updated: Wednesday, April 25, 2018 @ 2:44 PM

Biography of George H.W. Bush

Former President George H.W. Bush has been moved from the intensive care unit at Houston Methodist Hospital to a regular patient bed days after he suffered an infection that spread to his blood, a family spokesman said Wednesday.

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First U.S. memorial to 4,400 victims of lynchings across the South opens in Alabama  

Published: Wednesday, April 25, 2018 @ 10:38 PM

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice memorial was created from 800 hanging steel columns with the county and names of people lynched there etched into the column, including “unknown” victims. It’s the first U.S. memorial to the victims of lynchings.
Equal Justice Initiative
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice memorial was created from 800 hanging steel columns with the county and names of people lynched there etched into the column, including “unknown” victims. It’s the first U.S. memorial to the victims of lynchings.(Equal Justice Initiative)

The first memorial in the United States dedicated to the victims of white supremacy opens in Montgomery, Alabama, Thursday.

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The National Memorial for Peace and Justice by the non-profit Equal Justice Initiative, or EJI, overlooks the Alabama State Capitol and seeks to shine a light on a terrifying chapter of American history that is rarely talked about: the lynchings of some 4,400 black Americans across the South during a rampage of horror and violence that went on for decades.

“We need to find ways to live in this country and talk about things we haven’t talked about,” EJI founder Bryan Stevenson told The Root. Stevenson said discussing this shadowy part of American history may be uncomfortable for some, but he said it’s necessary in order to move beyond it. “It isn’t about retribution,” he said.

>> Related: ‘There’s blood everywhere’: Teen accused of premeditated murder of 11-year-old brother

Almost 25 percent of the victims of lynching were accused of sexual assault and nearly 30 percent were accused of murder, The Root reported.

The memorial was created from 800 hanging steel columns with the county and names of people lynched there etched into the column, including “unknown” victims. 

The memorial site also includes the Legacy Museum: From Slavery to Mass Incarceration

>> Related: Suspected 'Golden State Killer' arrested decades after serial rapes, murders: reports

A two-day summit, which is part of the opening events this week, is already sold out.

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WATCH: Woman pulls gun on would-be robber, saves husband, family says

Published: Wednesday, April 25, 2018 @ 8:37 AM

Watch: Woman Pulls Gun On Robber, Saving Her Family

Police in Memphis, Tennessee, are searching for a man who allegedly attempted a robbery outside a Whitehaven home in broad daylight.

>> Watch the news report here

A surveillance camera captured the weekend incident.

>> Watch the surveillance footage here

One of the victims, who asked not to be identified, told WHBQ that his niece, who was visiting from Florida, took his gun and scared off the bold criminal after she saw that her husband was in trouble.

“She’s bold," he said. "She ain’t scared of nothing.”

In the video, the suspect has his right hand in his waist band as he stands behind the woman's husband. The victims said the man’s hand was on a gun.

Memphis police said Sunday afternoon the man in the blue jacket came to the Whitehaven home and asked to use one of the victims’ phones and then asked for a ride.

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While the incident was unfolding outside the house, the woman and her uncle reportedly were inside the house.

Police said that after the woman saw her husband in trouble, she came out the front door with a gun and fired a warning shot.

The uncle told WHBQ: “She said she didn’t want to kill him, but when he fired back at us after she fired the warning shot, she said she was trying to hit him then but didn’t.”

Memphis police told WHBQ that the suspect ran toward the back of the house before getting away.

Police said they are reviewing this surveillance video to get a positive ID on the suspect. If you have any information on who that suspect may be, call CrimeStoppers at 901-528-CASH.

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