Ex-wife testifies husband cared deeply for son left in hot car, wouldn’t have let him die
The ex-wife of a Georgia man charged with murder after their toddler son died in a hot SUV shed tears for her boy on the witness stand Monday while testifying that her former husband would not have left him to die on purpose.
Leanna Taylor told a jury she tried to be strong for Justin Ross Harris after learning on June 18, 2014, that their only child was dead after Harris left the boy in his car’s back seat all day after driving to work.
“I knew he was never going to forgive himself,” Taylor testified, adding that she knew Harris didn’t leave their son intentionally.
Her testimony as a defense witness for Harris, 35, contradicts the case prosecutors have spent weeks trying to build: that Harris meant to kill his 22-month-old son, Cooper. Prosecutors say Harris, who is charged with felony murder, wanted to escape the responsibilities of family life as he spent his time seeking sexual relationships both online and in person with women outside his marriage.
“If I had, I would have divorced him then,” she said.
But Taylor also testified Harris was an equal and enthusiastic partner when it came to parenthood. He helped change Cooper’s diapers, prepared his meals and would bathe the child. In the mornings, she said, Cooper and his father would sit together in bed watching cartoons.
“He wanted to be the one to push him on a swing. He wanted to be the one to slide down the slide with him,” Taylor said of her ex-husband. “He wanted to enjoy every second he could with him.”
Prosecutors were expected to cross-examine Taylor later Monday afternoon.
Seated at the defense table, rarely looking up at his former wife, Harris at times cried during her testimony.
By the summer of 2014, Harris was trying to plan for the three of them to take a family cruise with his brother’s family, Taylor said. They also had begun talking with a real estate agent about buying a home in metro Atlanta, where Harris worked as a web developer for Home Depot after they moved from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in 2012. Taylor said her husband wanted to make sure they lived in a good school district.
That all came to halt the day Taylor showed up to pick Cooper up from daycare and learned he was never dropped off that day. Earlier that day, Harris sent her a text message asking: “When you getting my buddy?”
She said she rushed to her husband’s nearby office.
Cobb County police detectives soon arrived and confirmed her fears.
Despite the horrific news, Taylor said, she didn’t cry until hours later when she went home, crawled into her dead son’s bed and wept. Her husband was being held in jail on charges.
“I did not know you could react the way I reacted,” Taylor said. “It was like someone else took over my body for me while I was outside of my mind just trying to make sense of what had happened.”
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