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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Hundreds of Pittsburgh protesters marching over death of Antwon Rose shut down traffic for miles

Published: Thursday, June 21, 2018 @ 11:10 PM
Updated: Friday, June 22, 2018 @ 3:01 AM

Officer Allegedly Kills Unarmed Teen After Being Sworn In Hours Before

Hundreds of marchers took to the streets of Pittsburgh Thursday night, protesting the fatal police shooting of a teenager during a traffic stop Tuesday night.

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Traffic was brought to a standstill as protesters spilled onto Pittsburgh’s Parkway East.

 

The protest was described by WPXI reporters on the scene as “tense,” but “peaceful so far.”

Marchers, holding signs and cell phones, sat down in the street, blocking traffic and causing a back up for miles. 

Protesters were told to voluntarily disperse by 1 a.m. Friday. Pennsylvania State Police were able to clear all protesters by 2:45 a.m. At least one woman was arrested.

Residents were angry and upset over the fatal police shooting of unarmed 17-year-old Antwon Rose.

Allegheny County police officials said that Rose was a passenger in a vehicle stopped in East Pittsburgh around 8:20 p.m. Tuesday because it fit the description of a car seen fleeing the area of a shooting in the nearby borough of North Braddock. As an officer handcuffed the driver of the car, which investigators said had bullet damage to the back window, Rose and a second passenger got out of the car and ran. 

Footage of the shooting posted on Facebook Tuesday shows the scene from a distance. The 18-second video shows Rose and the other passenger, who has not been found by police, get out of the car and make a break for the yard between two nearby houses.

Three shots are heard and one of the passengers appears to fall into the grass.

Rose, who police officials said was struck three times, was taken to McKeesport Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. 

The Allegheny County medical examiner on Thursday ruled the teen’s death a homicide. 

The East Pittsburgh police officer who shot and killed Rose  was sworn in just hours before the fatal encounter.

Mayor Louis Payne told WPXI Wednesday that the unidentified officer who killed Rose previously spent seven years working in other departments, but confirmed that he was working his first shift following his official swearing in with the East Pittsburgh Police Department.

Pictured is the spot on East Pittsburgh's Grandview Avenue where unarmed teen Antwon Rose was shot and killed by a police officer Tuesday, June 19, 2018. Witnesses said Rose, 17, was shot in the back as he ran from a traffic stop.(Keith Srakocic/via AP)

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Driver surprised by snake surrounding leg while driving

Published: Thursday, June 21, 2018 @ 8:59 AM

Woman Finds Snake Wrapped Around Leg While Driving

Time to get a new car! 

A woman said she was driving when she felt something on her leg. And it wasn’t her imagination. The unidentified woman saw a six-foot-long snake slithering up her leg, WSPA reported.

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A pest removal service in Rutherford County said that a customer of theirs had a box in her car that she was taking to the dump. The box had been sitting outside and the snake had crawled in. The Bug Man reminded people in its Facebook post about the incident, to always check boxes and planters before moving them. Snakes and other critters can make containers their home.

She called police for help and they got the serpent out of her vehicle using snake tongs, WSPA reported.

The stowaway’s story doesn’t end there. The snake actually got out of its container while police were relocating it, but eventually got out of the police car and made its way into a creek, WSPA reported.

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Teen sucked into drainage pipe by floodwaters, emerges across street

Published: Thursday, June 21, 2018 @ 10:43 PM

Ben Smith estimates he was trapped in the pipe for about a minute before washing out in a small creek on the other side of the road. (WPXI.com)
Ben Smith estimates he was trapped in the pipe for about a minute before washing out in a small creek on the other side of the road. (WPXI.com)

A Pennsylvania teenager admits he’s lucky to be alive after getting sucked into a drainage pipe underneath a road south of Pittsburgh.

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Ben Smith was helping clear debris from outside of neighbors’ houses during massive flooding Wednesday night.

"There was a quick moment when I thought I wouldn't get out. It felt like I was going down," Smith said. "We were trying to move a van away from it and clear some debris. I went to go after this wood panel and my foot slipped and I just went right under."

Neighbors tried to pull him out, but the floodwater was too strong and Smith was washed away.

He said his instincts and Eagle Scout training kicked in.

"It teaches you to be prepared for any sort of circumstance that comes your way," Smith said. "I knew going against the water would not work at all. So I just tucked in and hoped I could end up somewhere."

Smith estimates he was trapped in the pipe for about a minute before washing out in a small creek on the other side of the road.

He escaped with no broken bones and no major injuries, which shocked his friends and neighbors.

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Weird-looking ancient sea creature named after President Barack Obama; it’s actually an honor

Published: Thursday, June 21, 2018 @ 10:40 PM

Two new fossils discovered by UC Riverside researchers  in South Australia. The one named after former President Barack Obama, Obamus coronatus, is on the left. The other is named after British naturalist  Sir David Attenborough.
Two new fossils discovered by UC Riverside researchers in South Australia. The one named after former President Barack Obama, Obamus coronatus, is on the left. The other is named after British naturalist Sir David Attenborough.

Former President Barack Obama was such a friend to science and so passionate about a diverse number of scientific issues that researchers at the University of California at Riverside decided to honor him by naming an ancient sea creature after him.

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Obamus coronatus, translated means Obama crowned, was a disc-shaped, ocean-dwelling sea creature, which lived in the Earth’s shallow oceans between 580 and 540 million years ago, according to UCR researchers. It had raised spiral groves on its surface and scientists believe it was stationary, embedded in the ocean mat, “a thick layer of organic matter that covered the early ocean floor,” according to a statement.

The animals were soft-bodied and lived in the Precambrian era at the dawn of animal life, researchers said. They were discovered in South Australia’s Ediacara Hills in Flinders Ranges as fossils in sandstone that had been preserved for hundreds of millions of years.

These animals “are a new body plan, unlike anything else that has been described,” lead researcher Mary Droser said.

>> Related: New dinosaur with razor-sharp claws and jagged teeth unearthed in Argentina

“We have been seeing evidence for these animals for quite a long time, but it took us a while to verify that they are animals within their own rights and not part of another animal,” Droser said.  

The discovery of Obamus coroanatus was first reported in the online Australian Journal of Earth Sciences on June 14.

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