The Georgia Supreme Court has reversed the murder conviction of Justin Ross Harris, a Cobb County parent condemned to life in prison without parole for the 2014 hot-car death of his 22-month-old son, Cooper.
Harris had placed his son Cooper into his rear-facing car seat on a sweltering summer day in June 2014 and reportedly forgot to drop him at the day care. He drove to work, leaving Cooper strapped in the car for the next seven hours. Harris claimed he did not discover his son was still in the car until that afternoon, when going to a nearby movie theatre.
On Wednesday, the Court ruled 6-3 that prosecutors’ evidence of Harris’ extramarital sexual encounters, which the state presented as the basis for his decision to kill his kid, had an unjust prejudiced influence on the jury.
In addition to three counts of murder, Harris had been found guilty of two counts of cruelty to children in connection with Cooper’s death, as well as three counts relating to his computer communications with kids. Harris was sentenced to 12 years in total for the three charges: ten years for one count of attempting to commit sexual exploitation of a child and one year for each of two counts of disseminating damaging material to a juvenile.
Prosecutors said Harris’ repeated romances and sex offences demonstrated he was unhappy in his marriage and killed his son on purpose to escape. They revealed considerable proof of his extramarital sexual practices, such as sending sexually explicit messages and graphic images with women and girls and meeting with some of them for sex.
While his murder conviction was overturned, Harris’ conviction for sex crimes against a 16-year-old girl was affirmed. Georgia Supreme Court judges say that Harris’ voluminous sexual activity records should not have been used by the jury in connection with Cooper’s death.
According to the verdict, the Georgia Supreme Court only overturned Harris’ convictions for crimes against his son; Harris had not challenged the others in his appeal, thus they remained in place.
Meanwhile, defence attorneys contended Cooper’s death was a tragic accident caused by his father’s forgetfulness.