Skip to main content

In hot car death, leave the mom alone

By Mel Robbins
updated 8:01 AM EDT, Thu July 10, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mel Robbins: People say there's "something suspicious" about Leanna Harris
  • Robbins: We tend to interpret details in a tragedy to bolster our early judgment
  • She says mom's emotional state, Web searches irrelevant; remarks explainable
  • Robbins: Nobody knows what happened yet, so don't indict anyone until facts are in

Editor's note: Mel Robbins is a CNN commentator and legal analyst. Robbins is the founder of Inspire52.com, a positive news website and author of "Stop Saying You're Fine," about managing change. She speaks on leadership around the world and in 2014 was named Outstanding News Talk Radio Host by the Gracie Awards. Follow her on Twitter @melrobbins. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Leave the wife alone. Many of you should admit it. You think there's "something suspicious" about her.

You're not alone. The police say they have "barely scratched the surface" on the investigation into Cooper Harris' death in a hot car, and a lot of us have decided that Leanna Harris, his mom, was somehow involved. At the time I'm writing this, she has not been charged with a crime, she is not a suspect, she is not the focus of the investigation -- she's just one of the many witnesses being scrutinized by the police, as she should be.

Mel Robbins
Mel Robbins

But she shouldn't be indicted by the public before the facts come out.

It's tempting to rush to judgment in a tragedy. We tend to make a gut call and then use the details in a story to try to prove that our initial call was right. I agree with those who are skeptical: The sexting dad Justin Ross Harris, who left the boy in the car, appears to have dug himself a pretty deep hole. Until we hear his side of the story, he'll probably remain there. But before you judge Leanna Harris, consider these eight points.

Her emotional state is irrelevant.

Interpreting emotional reactions is an extremely subjective business. Justin Ross Harris was crying in court during the probable cause hearing, yet nobody is arguing that his tears are proof he made a mistake. Many have pointed out Leanna's stoic, gum-chomping face in court as "suspicious." Try this interpretation. She's pissed. Listening to evidence that your husband was sending photos of his penis to other women isn't going to send most women into tears, she's probably chewing the gum to keep herself from standing up and throwing something at him.

Perhaps that's what she meant when, as police say, she asked her husband "Did you say too much?" It might refer to saying too much about their marital problems and financial difficulties that were playing out in court.

And more important: Everyone grieves differently. Police questioned her lack of emotion and an officer testified that Leanna Harris' mother asked her "Why aren't you crying?"

I can tell you why she's not crying: She's in shock.

She is emotionally and mentally processing a lot.

Her baby is dead. She is learning the horrible details about how Cooper suffered: scratching his face and banging his head against the seat as he slowly died.

Her husband is in jail for murder.

Her husband was also sexting with several women.

Her marital and financial troubles have been exposed for the world to see.

Police replicate toddler's hot car death
Can the Harris' behavior come up in court?
New search warrants in toddler car death
Trying to save kids from hot car deaths

The world media is parked at her front door and filming her every move.

How is she supposed to act in the wake of that avalanche? Lord only knows. I'm sure she's a hot mess of rage, fear, grief, shock and everything in between.

Her Internet searches about hot car deaths mean nothing.

Thousands of things new parents do might strike the rest of us as strange: they buy fabric inserts for shopping carts because they are germophobes, they boil every bottle, throw out pacifiers that drop on the floor. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a mother searching for information about a subject she's worried about. After hearing about Cooper's horrible death and that 44 children died last year in hot cars, you might have searched for information about it. I know I did.

"I love you Ross, I'm doing this for you."

At first that statement during her eulogy seemed really strange. What exactly is she "doing" for him? But look at the context. She called him a "wonderful father" and is clearly standing by him. She stood up there in front of 250 people with her son in a tiny casket and had the strength to give a eulogy on behalf of both of them. She talked about how much she loved Cooper, about God, about Cooper being in "the most peaceful, wonderful place there is" and about how she was relying on her faith to give her strength.

I refuse to believe the accomplice theories.

You can convince me that an individual might be sick enough to kill his or her spouse and child to run off with a mistress, but the idea of a couple trying to fix their marital problems by killing their child strains belief.

A life insurance policy is not definitive proof of motive.

Plenty of families have life insurance polices for their children and owning one is not a de facto motive for murder. In the Harris case, the $2,000 policy was issued by his employer and the $25,000 policy was purchased in 2012.

And even if Leanna Harris cashes it in, as her husband has been instructing family members to do, it doesn't prove she was involved in Cooper's death either. It just proves they've got very poor judgment on timing. But on the other hand, I'm sure the lawyer bills and other expenses are adding up and she has to pay for them somehow.

And finally, her statement at day care: "Ross must have left him in the car. There's no other explanation."

At first blush, that statement seemed suspicious, then I thought of two things: One is mother's intuition. The other is that we don't know yet if Ross had said anything to her that day, even something as cryptic as "Sorry."

The other day, my husband and I were at home and it was 12:30 in the afternoon. Both our cellphones rang at the same time. It was the school calling. We were in a meeting, so we let it go to voicemail.

Then the home phone rang: It was the school again. I turned to my husband Chris and without thinking said, "Pick it up, I bet there's a lockdown at the school." Sure enough, two first graders had seen what they thought was a man with a gun -- the school was in full lockdown and Swat teams were on site. A school shooting is my worst nightmare and I had just connected the dots unconsciously. Leanna's "worst nightmare" was leaving her son in the car -- did she just connect the dots?

I have my theories, as many people do. One day, I think Ross Harris made a tragic mistake. When you cheat on your wife, you lead a double life and that means you are even more distracted than most frazzled working parents. So distracted that you might forget your kid in the back seat as you race into work to start sexting.

If he did leave Cooper in the car by mistake, he could have realized it in the afternoon and just couldn't face what he had done. He might have panicked all afternoon -- so much so he convinced himself that getting in the car and driving to a crowded parking lot would make it look like an accident.

But then, I learn about some new detail in the case -- the Internet searches he made about #childfreelife and "surviving prison" and I mutter "I hope they fry him."

The truth is ... I don't know the truth. Only Ross Harris does. And although it is easy to speculate about the wife's involvement, let's all leave the lady alone. Until I hear all the evidence I will just continue to look at the legal issues and analyze them -- because I don't actually know what happened yet, and neither do you.

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Georgia toddler dies in hot car
updated 11:00 PM EDT, Tue July 15, 2014
The mother whose toddler died in a hot car near Atlanta last month says she finds comfort in faith but struggles to get through each day.
updated 7:12 AM EDT, Fri July 11, 2014
Open a car door on a summer day, and a sauna blast will quickly remind you just how seethingly, sticky hot it can get inside in just a short time. It's suffocating.
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Wed July 9, 2014
Justin Ross Harris apparently called himself RJ on a social media personal networking site, where he met a woman that police say he was messaging on the day his son was dying.
updated 2:38 PM EDT, Wed July 9, 2014
Who is Justin Ross Harris, the Georgia man whose toddler son died after being left in a hot car?
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Wed July 9, 2014
Much of the focus has been on Justin Ross Harris, the father who failed to drop the toddler off at day care. But now, people are turning to the mother, Leanna Harris.
updated 9:34 AM EDT, Thu July 3, 2014
One of the few details to come out of the murder case against suburban Atlanta dad Justin Ross Harris is that he searched for information about such deaths shortly before the incident occurred.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Tue July 15, 2014
The case has sparked a debate about whether more could be done to prevent the accidental deaths of children from heatstroke inside a car.
updated 8:01 AM EDT, Thu July 10, 2014
Leave the wife alone. Many of you should admit it. You think there's "something suspicious" about her, Mel Robbins writes.
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Thu July 10, 2014
A series of documents released revealed more details of the investigation into what happened the day a Georgia toddler died in a sweltering car.
updated 11:10 PM EDT, Tue July 8, 2014
Is there a right or wrong way to act when learning of a tragedy? CNN's Martin Savidge investigates.
updated 1:04 PM EDT, Thu September 4, 2014
Lyn Balfour promised her son, limp in her arms, that she would never let it happen to another parent.
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Tue July 8, 2014
Anderson looks at a hot car demonstration video allegedly watched by Justin Harris. He discusses it with Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
updated 4:28 PM EDT, Wed July 9, 2014
Most legal experts agree that the prosecution will likely upgrade the charges to malice murder after the case is presented to a grand jury.
updated 6:59 AM EDT, Fri July 4, 2014
Surprising claims came to light during a hearing for a Georgia man whose toddler son died after being left in a hot car.
updated 2:41 PM EDT, Sun June 29, 2014
Leanna Harris, the mother of a Georgia toddler who died locked in a hot car, has told authorities that she researched such deaths and how they occur, according to a police affidavit.
updated 11:57 AM EDT, Tue July 8, 2014
CNN's Miguel Marquez looks at the shocking number of hot car deaths in the U.S.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT