By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
On a warm July morning, Miles Harrison dressed his 21-month-old son, Chase, in a T-shirt and shorts, put sunscreen on him, then strapped him into a child seat for the ride to his day-care center. Along the way, Harrison stopped at a dry cleaner, leaving Chase in the vehicle, then made or received 13 calls on his cellphone while driving from Purcellville to Herndon.
And, Harrison testified yesterday, he forgot to stop at the day-care center in Ashburn and drop Chase off.
After arriving at work, Harrison went straight inside without glancing at the back seat. Miles spent nine hours in Harrison's GMC Yukon on a 90-degree day and died of heat stroke.
Harrison, 49, testified briefly yesterday during his involuntary-manslaughter trial about what happened. Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge R. Terrence Ney denied a defense motion to dismiss the charge, heard testimony and closing arguments, and said he will rule on the case this morning. The defense chose to have a judge rather than a jury hear the case.
A string of witnesses, including Harrison's wife, Carol, testified to the loving environment that the Harrisons created for Miles after adopting him from Russia and bringing him to Purcellville on March 21. Many of their anecdotes and comments brought sobs from the audience, and Harrison sat hunched in pain at the defense table.
Cherie Berry, who works at the KinderCare day-care center Chase began attending in June, said, "I've never seen a father cherish a child like Miles did Chase."
Suzanne Segal, Harrison's mother, recalled accompanying the Harrisons to get Chase's blood drawn. She and Carol Harrison dreaded it, but she said Miles Harrison held his new son in his lap "and sang the Ohio State fight song to him. Chase was just looking up at him in amazement. He kept singing and singing to him," and the blood was taken without tears.
Carol Harrison said she feared that Chase's first words would be part of the Ohio State fight song. The boy was developmentally delayed, from spending his first 18 months in Russia, and had not started talking.
Defense attorney Peter D. Greenspun said Miles Harrison could never have intended harm to a son he loved so much and struggled so hard to obtain, including three arduous trips to a distant orphanage.
Finally, Greenspun called Harrison to the witness stand. Harrison said he did not know why he failed to drop off his son and could only shake his head when asked, "Do you know how you forgot?" When Greenspun asked, "If anyone had asked you on that day, where did you think he was?" Harrison could barely croak, "Day care."
But Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Katherine E. Stott said Harrison had taken Chase to day care several times in the previous week, had left him in the car while dropping off laundry and had made or received 13 phone calls while driving.
The standard for involuntary manslaughter is "negligence so gross, wanton and culpable as to show a callous disregard for human life," Ney said. Greenspun said the case was an accident, negligence but not gross negligence. Ney said that accidents are blameless and that negligence implies fault.
The prosecutor said: "This is a case that involves parental responsibility. A case where an adult has voluntarily taken on the care of another life. . . . This is someone who took on the responsibility for Chase that morning. He put him in a hot car, and then he abandoned him."