Justin Ross Harris’s defense case continued with only one witness, a psychologist with expertise in human memory. The case is close to wrapping up with only two witnesses left—one for the defense and one rebuttal witness for the State—unless Harris elects to testify. If so, he will likely be on the stand for several days. If he doesn’t testify, closing arguments could be next Monday.
While expert testimony can be technical and dry, others can be fascinating. This expert, who studies human memory, offered testimony to which we all can relate.
17. Gene Brewer, psychologist, expert in human memory
Brewer, who teaches at Arizona State University, described the three areas of memory that his work focuses on and the factors that affect memory. He studies working memory, the nature of memory and prospective memory. Much of what we do daily is routine behavior. Distractions, both internal and external, can affect memory. Fatigue can also affect memory. Brewer said that prospective memory—how we use past information to plan the future and, when the future arrives, how we remember it was what we were planning to do—can be adversely affected by habit, distraction, and fatigue.
Memory failure can happen in seconds. He drew on an example that everyone can relate to. You want something to eat. By the time you walk to the refrigerator and open it, you forgot what you were looking for; it can happen that fast that people forget their intentions.
It’s also possible to have false memories where you believe you did something because it’s something you do so often (like drop off a child at daycare). He said this has happened to other parents also, not just Harris.
Harris had received an email the night before Cooper died from work about dissatisfaction with his job performance. He also awoke early. Brewer says the email and fatigue could have contributed to his distraction. (NOTE: And sexting too!)
On cross, of course Boring brought up the sexting. Brewer was not aware of any case on point with Harris’s. He also was not aware of a case of memory lapse when the drive was as short as Harris’s (.6 miles). As for fatigue, Harris never claimed to police that he was tired.
On redirect, Brewer said it’s possible to have a memory failure without a distraction.
Court will resume tomorrow for what may be the final day of testimony.