The woman who testified in the first trial against Ross Harris reacts to the Cobb County prosecutor’s decision not to retry the case.
Janette Fennell, president of Kids and Car Safety, was called to give evidence in a lawsuit relating to the death of a two-year-old child left in a hot car by his father who died in 2014.
“No one could understand how this could happen to otherwise loving and adoring parents,” Fennell said.
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During the trial, Harris argued that he forgot to drop the baby off at daycare. Instead, he drove his SUV to work at the Home Depot headquarters on Cumberland Boulevard.
At that time, two-year-old Cooper was locked inside the car around 9:30 a.m.
Harris left for lunch with co-workers and returned to his SUV to put light bulbs in the back seat that he had bought during the lunch hour.
Around 4:15 p.m., Harris dived two miles by his account before noticing his son in the back seat. Eventually, he pulled into a mall parking lot and picked up Cooper’s body.
Fennell said she and her team of researchers collected data on how a father could forget his 22-month-old son in the back of his SUV for almost seven hours.
“It really has to do with how our brain works, or in this case how it let us down,” Fennell said.
She said the government didn’t count data when she started in the 1990s. Since then, she’s counted 44 children who died in burning cars in Georgia. She said he was one of two children in the state the year baby Cooper died.
However, prosecutors argued that this case was no accident. They pointed to surveillance video that the father returned to his car after lunch break and did not notice Cooper until he left work. They said he was texting underage girls while his son was dying.
The Georgia Supreme Court overturned the conviction because of this connection. However, they allowed the child sex crimes charges to remain in place.
After 11 months of review, the Cobb County prosecutor announced that he would not retry the case.
“This man murdered his child, and you can prove this case while I’m sitting here now talking to you,” said Jesse Evans, an attorney who prosecuted the case in 2016.
The attorney for Harris’ ex-wife said she supports the prosecutor’s decision.
“She always believed that he never intentionally tried to hurt her child,” Lawrence Zimmerman said.
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The decision caused Fennell to reflect on his testimony.
“Everyone wants to push this away and say there’s no way I’m doing this, and we want to believe that,” Fennell said. “Our brains can let us down and, unfortunately, in those cases, our brains let us down at the worst time.”
So far in 2023, four children have died in burning cars in the United States, none of them in Georgia. In 2022, 36 children died in burning cars. Four of them were in Georgia.
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