Case Study: Computer Forensics Take Center Stage of Hot Car Child Death

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Case Study: Computer Forensics Take Center Stage of Hot Car Child Death

The death of a child is always unfortunate. This is especially the case when that death turns out to be murder, as with the recent case of a 22-month old child, Cooper. He died after his father left him in a hot car. Justin Ross Harris has been charged with felony murder and second-degree child cruelty in this case.

Details of the Case Thus Far

Harris says that he forgot to take his son and drop him off at childcare and instead went to work on June 18, 2014. His son then spent close to seven hours in the SUV alone. Temperatures in the vehicle climbed to approximately 88 degrees. Cooper succumbed to the heat and died. At first, this may seem like a horrible accident. However, the judge determined there was probable cause for the murder charges, and he refused to grant a bond to Harris, meaning he will stay at the Cobb County Jail awaiting trial.

Some of the attention in this case is now focusing in on the mother though. Still, the authorities will not confirm if there is a warrant for the arrest of Leanna Harris, Justin’s wife. It remains unclear if she was involved in the death of young Cooper. During the court hearing, Phil Stoddard, a Cobb County Detective, mentioned she never asked about her child, or to see her child, and only asked about her husband. Most feel that the first reaction of a mother would be concern over her child, and this certainly raised some red flags with officials.

Her actions have raised even more questions. For example, she reportedly asked her husband if he had “said too much” at the police station when she saw him. Additionally, after finding out that her husband did not drop off Cooper at the daycare facility, she told the workers her husband must have left the child in the vehicle. One has to wonder how she would know such a thing if this had not been a pre-planned action from both of them.

Yet another disturbing fact is that both of the parents told the police that they had researched about deaths in hot cars on the Internet. Research indicated that Justin Harris may well have been leading something of a double life as well, and the police may have wanted to wait until the hearing to allow Leanna to listen to other allegations against Harris. For example, Detective Stoddard said that Harris had also been sending sexually explicit messages to a number of women, including an underage girl.

Thus far, Leanna has been defending Harris, claiming that he was a good father. However, if she were to testify against him in the trial, it could work against his case.

Enter Computer Forensics

As is the case with many types of crimes today, computer forensics may likely play a very important role in the trial. The computer forensics team will be playing a very important part in the trial. Forensics was already the key in uncovering the sexting, as well as the videos on death that Harris watched. In addition, the detective stated that they also discovered that Harris had visited a number of websites talking about “child free” as well as the search phrase “how to survive prison”. He researched these terms before Cooper’s death.

During the hearing Chuck Boring, the prosecutor for Cobb County, asked the detective whether they had examined the computers and whether they were finished. Stoddard said they were examining the computers, and that they were nowhere near finished, having “only scratched the surface”.

How Long Will the Forensics Aspect Take?

Experts in computer forensics agree that it takes time to go through all of the various types of computer devices even with the best software and techniques available. It depends on a number of different factors, and can take days, weeks, or even months depending on the amount of data and the state of the data they are examining and recovering.

According to the police, Harris was able to access three computers at least, and they claim that he was attempting to cover his searches and hide information on all of them. Of course, in the world of computer forensics, just because someone tries to hide something, make it disappear, or delete it, it does not mean that it’s gone. Computer forensics experts can retrieve data from computers, tablets, cell phones and more today with relative ease, even in those events when someone does attempt to hide or delete information.

Undoubtedly, computer forensics will be one of the real keys in this case and in finding justice for Cooper.