Justin Ross Harris’ murder conviction overturned
ATLANTA (AP) –
Georgia’s highest court on Wednesday overturned the murder and child cruelty convictions against a man whose infant son died after leaving him in a hot car for hours, saying the jury saw « extremely and unjustly prejudicial » evidence.
Justin Ross Harris, 41, was convicted in November 2016 of eight counts, including malicious murder in the death of his 22-month-old son, Cooper. A judge sentenced him to life without the possibility of parole and an additional 32 years in prison for other crimes.
All Georgia Supreme Court justices agreed there was enough evidence to support Harris’s convictions, but the majority opinion written by Chief Justice David Nahmias says much of the evidence related to the activities Harris’s sexual abuse should not have been admitted and may have improperly influenced the jury. The ruling means Harris is entitled to a new trial for murder and child cruelty against him.
The high court upheld Harris’s convictions for three sex crimes committed against a 16-year-old girl which Harris had not appealed.
The Cobb County District Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting the case, and an attorney for Harris did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
Prosecutors argued that Harris was unhappy with his marriage and intentionally killed his son to free himself. To support this theory, they presented ample evidence of extramarital sexual activities he had engaged in, including exchanging sexually explicit messages and graphic photos with women and girls and meeting some of them. them for sex.
The 6 to 3 majority opinion indicates that the jury « heard and saw a great deal of evidence incorrectly admitted ». He says that when prosecutors portrayed Harris as a man who « intentionally and maliciously » abandoned his child to die in the heat of summer, they also « presented a substantial amount of evidence to cause the jury to answer a different and more legally problematic question: what kind of man is (Harris)?
Harris, who moved from Tuscaloosa, Alabama to the Atlanta area for work in 2012, told police he forgot to drop his son off at daycare on the morning of June 18, 2014, driving straight to his job as a web developer for Home Depot without remembering that Cooper was still in his car seat.
Cooper died after sitting for about seven hours in the back seat of the vehicle outside his father’s office in suburban Atlanta, where temperatures that day reached at least the 80s.
Defense lawyers described him as a doting father and said the boy’s death was a tragic accident.
Judge Charlie Bethel wrote a partial dissent which was joined by Judge Shawn LaGrua and Judge Verda Colvin. He said the state was “entitled to present, in detail, evidence of the nature, scope and extent of the truly sinister motive it attributed to Harris.” For this reason, writes Bethel, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the impugned evidence.