ATLANTA — A Georgia father will not face another trial in the death of his young son in a hot car, prosecutors said Thursday, after the Georgia Supreme Court last year overturned his convictions for murder and child cruelty.
Justin Ross Harris, 42, was convicted in November 2016 of eight counts, including malicious murder, for the June 2014 death of his 22-month-old son, Cooper. A judge sentenced him to life in prison without parole, as well as an additional 32 years in prison for other crimes.
But the state Supreme Court voted 6-3 to overturn their murder and child cruelty convictions last June, saying the jury saw evidence that was «grossly and unfairly prejudicial.»
The Cobb County district attorney’s office, which prosecuted the case, said in a statement that it disagreed with the majority’s decision. But because of that ruling, prosecutors said crucial evidence about Harris’s motive is no longer available for them to use.
After doing a thorough review of the entire case, prosecutors said they decided not to retry Harris on reverse charges. On Thursday, a judge signed the dismissal of those charges.
Harris’ attorneys, Maddox Kilgore, Carlos Rodriguez and Bryan Lumpkin, maintained from the outset that Harris was a loving father and that the boy’s death was a tragic accident.
«Ross has always accepted moral responsibility for Cooper’s death,» they said in a statement after the charges were dismissed. «But after all these years of investigation and review, this dismissal of the charges confirms that Cooper’s death was unintentional and therefore not a crime.»
The high court upheld Harris’ convictions for three sexual offenses committed against a 16-year-old girl that Harris had not appealed. She received a total of 12 years in prison for those crimes and will continue to serve that sentence, the district attorney’s office said.
Harris had moved from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to the Atlanta area for work in 2012. He told police that on the morning of June 18, 2014, he forgot to drop Cooper off at daycare and headed straight for his job as a developer. website for Home Depot. and leave the child in his car seat.
Cooper died after sitting for about seven hours in the back seat of the Hyundai Tucson pickup outside his father’s office in suburban Atlanta, where temperatures that day reached at least 80 degrees.
All of the Georgia Supreme Court justices agreed that there was sufficient evidence to support Harris’s convictions. But the majority opinion said that much of the evidence having to do with her sexual activities should not have been allowed at trial and may have improperly influenced the jury.
At trial, prosecutors put forth the theory that Harris was miserable in her marriage and killed her son so she could be free. In support of that claim, they presented evidence of her extramarital sexual activities, including the exchange of sexually explicit messages and graphic photographs with women and girls and sexual encounters with some of them.
The high court concluded that they also «produced a substantial amount of evidence for the jury to answer a different and more legally problematic question: what kind of man is (Harris)?»
A dissenting opinion found that the state was entitled to present detailed evidence of «the nature, scope, and extent of the truly sinister motive that it attributed to Harris» and concluded that the trial court did not err in allowing the jury to see the accused. evidence.
Harris’ lawyers said the case «tragically fits the pattern of how children are left unintentionally in cars.»
«Saddling a bereaved parent for an unintentional memory lapse does nothing to prevent tragedy from happening to another,» their statement said. “In fact, child deaths from hot cars increased after the Ross trial in 2016.”
Harris’s case garnered an extraordinary amount of attention, drawing intense coverage in the Atlanta area, making national headlines and sparking debates online and on cable news shows. After determining during nearly three weeks of jury selection that the pre-trial publicity had made it very difficult to find a fair jury in Cobb County, in suburban Atlanta, the presiding judge agreed to move the trial to Brunswick, on the Atlanta coast. Georgia.