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Dead Toddler’s Mom Speaks Out for First Time Since Ex-Husband Was Convicted in Hot Car Murder

People logo People 2017-02-17 Char Adams
© AP2014

The mother of a 22-month-old boy who died in a hot car in 2014 is speaking out about his death and — for the first time on TV — her ex-husband’s subsequent murder conviction.

In an exclusive clip from ABC’s upcoming 20/20 special, airing Friday night, Leanna Taylor reveals the reason behind her seemingly emotionless reaction after her toddler son, Cooper, was found dead in his father’s car in June 2014.

“There’s no way for someone to know how they would react … My explanation of how I would have reacted and the reality of how I actually reacted would have been completely opposite,” Taylor tells ABC’s Amy Robach in the clip.

“Nothing about it felt real, nothing about it felt like it was happening,” she says. “It just felt like a bad dream.”

Cooper died on June 18, 2014, after spending seven hours trapped in a hot car in Marietta, Georgia. Taylor’s then-husband, Justin Ross Harris, was arrested almost immediately after his son was found.

During questioning after the death, Harris calmly told police there was “no malicious intent,” officials noted during the trial. Prosecutors also said that before Cooper’s death, he visited online communities about the “child-free” lifestyle and “people who die” and researched the deadly effects of being in a hot car.

Harris was found guilty of eight felony counts — including malice murder, cruelty to children and criminal attempt to commit a felony — and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He is appealing that conviction.

Taylor, however, has long maintained that she believes her son’s death was an accident. (She divorced Harris following his arrest and the revelation of his marital infidelities.)

“There was no evidence in our relationship that suggested that he would harm anyone, much less his own son,” Taylor tells Robach, in a 20/20 clip that aired on Good Morning America Friday.

“It never crossed my mind that Ross had done it on purpose. Never. It was an accident.”

Taylor, too, faced scrutiny as a result of her odd behavior. Authorities have said she did not ask to see her son’s body on the night of his death — which they called “strange” — and she was heard asking Harris, “Did you say too much?”

She explained the latter incident in her ABC News interview, telling Robach in the GMA clip that she asked that question because she knew Harris tended to ramble.

“I knew my husband. I knew his personality … he doesn’t shut up,” Taylor said. “The only thing I could think of logically is, ‘What did you say to make them think you had done this on purpose?’ ”

Taylor also revealed she has faced backlash of a more personal nature: Someone even left a note on her son’s grave.

“It basically said, ‘I’m sorry that you weren’t loved in this life, Cooper. If you had been my son, I would have loved you,’ ” Taylor says in the exclusive clip. “It’s hard enough to lose your child, but then to have people think that you didn’t love him and that you didn’t want him, that’s something that should never be added to the equation of having to bury your baby.” 

During his trial, investigators alleged Harris had exchanged sexual text messages with several women on the day his son died and had visited prostitutes while married, one of whom testified against him.

Taylor told Robach on GMA that Harris has since apologized to her “for not protecting our son that day. For not being faithful to me. For taking his family for granted.”

She adds, “I accept it, it’s not going to change anything.”

Taylor’s 20/20 interview airs Friday (10 p.m. ET) on ABC.


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