published Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

Friend of Georgia man charged in toddler's heat death speaks out

A tear rolls down the cheek of Justin Ross Harris, the father of a toddler who died after police say he was left in a hot car for about seven hours, as he sits during his bond hearing in Cobb County Magistrate Court on Thursday, July 3, 2014, in Marietta, Ga.
A tear rolls down the cheek of Justin Ross Harris, the father of a toddler who died after police say he was left in a hot car for about seven hours, as he sits during his bond hearing in Cobb County Magistrate Court on Thursday, July 3, 2014, in Marietta, Ga.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — A friend of the metro Atlanta father who left his son in a hot SUV says he's devastated by what has happened to his friend's family and is unsure of what to think about the way he's been described by police thus far.

Ben McRea of Tuscaloosa, Alabama told Atlanta's WSB-TV on Tuesday that he and Justin Ross Harris, also of Tuscaloosa, have known each other since high school and that he was a groomsman at Harris' wedding in 2006.

Police have said Harris's 22-month-old son, Cooper, died after being left inside a parked SUV while his father was at work at a Home Depot office in suburban Atlanta.

Harris has told investigators he forgot to drop the boy off at daycare and didn't notice him in the back seat until after leaving work for the day. Prosecutors have accused Harris, 33, of intentionally leaving the boy in the car. Harris has been charged with murder and child cruelty, and has been held without bond in the Cobb County jail since the boy's June 18 death.

McRea said he remembers Harris as charismatic and energetic, and that the description of him by police doesn't match the man he knew.

During a probable cause hearing July 3, police said evidence showed that Harris had been sending explicit photos to at least six women — including at teenage girl — even on the day his son died.

"The six different women, the sexting, the doing what he was doing in his office the day Cooper was dying in the car. It made me sick," McRae said. "Part of me still hopes to think, and wishes to think, and prays to God that there's a reasonable explanation to this that he didn't intentionally seek to kill Cooper."

Harris' attorney, Maddox Kilgore, has argued that evidence presented thus far is insufficient and that the boy's death was a tragic accident.

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