BRUNSWICK, GA (CNN) – Justin Ross Harris is responsible for the death of his 22-month-old son, Cooper, but to allege he intentionally let the boy die in a sweltering SUV just isn’t true, his attorney told jurors Tuesday.
Attorney H. Maddox Kilgore embraced some of the damning allegations leveled by a prosecutor during Monday’s opening statements, while dubbing some of investigators’ claims outright lies.
“What you are going to see here in this trial is that responsible is not the same thing as criminal,” the lawyer said. “The evidence will show that Ross loved that little boy more than anything. Cooper’s death was an accident. It was always an accident, and that is what he told the police over and over again.”
Harris wept as Kilgore presented his case. Among the witnesses the defense plans to call is Harris’ ex-wife, Leanna Taylor, a woman who “has every reason in the world to hate that guy, to despise that guy,” but who will testify that Harris was a good father who deeply loved Cooper, Kilgore said.
Harris, 35, is standing trial in south Georgia, roughly 300 miles away from his Marietta home in suburban Atlanta, after a judge granted a change of venue.
Dash cam video shows Harris screaming ‘Oh my God’ and arguing with police after his child was discovered dead.
He has pleaded not guilty to charges of malice murder, two counts of felony murder and first-degree cruelty to children in the toddler’s June 2014 death.
On Monday, Cobb County Assistant District Attorney Chuck Boring told jurors that Harris is a philanderer and manipulator who wanted to be free of his family so he “could move on to his other life.”
“On that day, when his child was cooking to death, he was messaging a girl, 16, to get vaginal pictures from her,” the prosecutor said.