BRUNSWICK, Ga. -- A Georgia father has been found guilty of murder in the2014 death of his toddler son who perished after being left in a hot car.
A jury of six men and six women began weighing evidence last Tuesday morning, after the month-long trial of Justin Ross Harris, 35. Prosecutors say Harris intentionally left his 22-month-old son, Cooper, to die in his SUV in the parking lot of his suburban Atlanta workplace on June 18, 2014. Defense attorneys say Harris loved his son and the death was a tragic accident.
Harris faced a total of eight counts including malice murder, two counts of felony murder -- which does not require proof of intent to kill -- cruelty to children in the first degree and cruelty to children in the second degree. Harris also faced charges in relation to his alleged “sexting” with a teen, including criminal attempt to commit felony sexual exploitation of a child, and two counts of dissemination of harmful material to a minor.
He was found guilty of all counts.
Harris did not show emotion as the verdict was read. A judge told him he had 30 days to file an appeal. When she asked Harris if he understood that, he replied, “Yes, ma’am.”
He reportedly faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole, plus 42 years. It’s not clear when he will be sentenced.
Jurors heard from a total of 70 witnesses, 52 of whom testified for the prosecution, reported CBS affiliate WGCL.
Harris’ defense attorney argued last week that his client was “clueless” and forgetful. But a prosecutor called Harris a murderer with a “malignant heart,” who killed his child to escape his family commitments as he sank deeper into a double life of sexual flirting and affairs with women he met online.
“It’s not a case of an adult hating his child,” prosecutor Chuck Boring told jurors during closing arguments. “It’s just that he loved himself and his other obsessions more than that little boy.”
Harris left his son strapped into his car seat in the back of his SUV on June 18, 2014. The boy was dead when his father pulled him from the vehicle more than seven hours later. He told police he took Cooper to breakfast that morning and then drove straight to work, forgetting to take the child to day care.
Defense attorney Maddox Kilgore told jurors that police rushed to judgment in concluding a crime had been committed and then used evidence of Harris’ affairs outside his marriage “to essentially bury him in a mountain of his own sexual sins.” He insisted the child’s death was unrelated.
“If it’s an accident, it’s not a crime,” Kilgore said. “He is responsible. Only him. Nobody else. And he has acknowledged that from day one. But responsible is not the same thing as criminal.”
Harris became emotional several times during the trial, including when a medical examiner detailed the boy’s “agonizing” last hours.
The boy’s mother and Harris’ ex-wife, Leanna Taylor, took the stand in his defense. Taylor described the man as a loving, involved father, but later said he “ruined my life.”
The trial took place in the coastal Georgia town of Brunswick because of pre-trial publicity in the Atlanta area.