The mother of the Georgia toddler who died inside an overheated SUV nearly two months ago opened up about the heartbreak of losing a son, and about what she called a “rush to judgment” over the resulting investigation. Leanna Harris’s husband, Justin Ross Harris, was charged with murdering their 22-month-old boy, Cooper. “I now live a tortured existence,” Leanna Harris wrote in a victim impact statement that was provided to NBC News.
Authorities in Marietta alleged that the 33-year-old father wanted to live a “child-free existence,” as described by a Cobb County detective. The police have said that prior to the boy’s death, Harris, who pleaded not guilty, researched child deaths inside hot vehicles on the Internet — and that his wife did the same. Leanna Harris has not been charged and has not been named a suspect.
“Whatever issues transpired in our marriage is between God and us,” she wrote in the statement. “The rush to judgment by the public and mainstream media has left me with little confidence in our legal system and our society.”
Leanna Harris lost a consulting job “due to the media,” she wrote, and “as of 8/1/14 I have been out of work 43 days.” She added that the “storm” around her family had prevented her from grieving, and that “Ross was a wonderful father” who “loved Cooper with all of his heart.”
The victim impact statement was provided to Leanna Harris by the Cobb County District Attorney, a fact that her lawyer, Lawrence Zimmerman, said indicated "that they're looking at her in that regard." But the district attorney's office called it standard procedure. "We're required by law to send those forms to all victims or a victim's next of kin," said Kim Isaza, a spokeswoman.
— With Reporting by Tim Stelloh
First published August 10 2014, 6:39 PM
Gabe Gutierrez is an NBC News correspondent based in Atlanta, Ga. He joined the network in March 2012, and reports for all platforms of NBC News, including "TODAY," "Nightly News with Brian Williams," MSNBC, NBCLatino.com, and NBCNews.com, as well as Telemundo.
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Gutierrez came to NBC News from KHOU 11 News in Houston, Texas, where he worked as the station's City Hall reporter. Prior to working in Houston, Gabe was a weekend morning anchor and reporter at WJRT-TV, the ABC station in Flint, Mich. While at WJRT, he regularly produced and hosted the station's public affairs program in addition to covering the state legislature and the auto industry. His first on-air job was at WBOY-TV, the NBC affiliate in Clarksburg, West Virginia, where he anchored weekend newscasts and reported during the week. While in college, Gutierrez interned at Telemundo in South Florida and at ABC News' satellite feed in Chicago.
Gutierrez was named "Best Reporter" in 2009 by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters. He also won an Emmy for his investigation into what several banks called one of the largest mortgage schemes ever in the state. The Associated Press also honored him for breaking news coverage and investigative reporting.
Originally from Miami, Gutierrez graduated from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism with a double major in political science. He is a member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors.