Georgia man to be sentenced in toddler's 'hot car' murder

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 05, 2016 7:08 AM

By Rich McKay

ATLANTA (Reuters) - A Georgia man convicted of intentionally leaving his toddler son to die inside a sweltering SUV on a hot summer day will find out if he will spend the rest of his life in prison when a judge sentences him on Monday.

A jury of six men and six women last month convicted Justin Ross Harris, 35, on all eight counts against him in the June 2014 death of his 22-month-old son, Cooper.

Cobb County Superior Court Judge Mary Staley Clark could sentence the former Home Depot Inc web developer to a maximum of life in prison without parole, plus 42 years.

Jurors found Harris guilty of felony murder, and first- and second-degree cruelty to a child for leaving the boy in the hot car. He was also convicted of criminal attempt to commit sexual exploitation of a child because of explicit texts he sent to a teenage girl.

His lawyers will likely call for mercy, saying the death was a horrible accident made by a flawed but God-fearing man who loved his only child.

Harris simply forgot to take his son to his daycare center after a father-and-son breakfast, and he did not see the boy strapped in the child seat right behind the driver’s seat after arriving at Home Depot's headquarters in Marietta, his lawyers said at trial.

After the conviction, prosecutors said justice was served for a child who was left to die so Harris could have a child-free lifestyle and pursue other women, including teenagers and prostitutes.

Phone and internet records show that Harris was texting with other women even as his son was left for seven hours outside his workplace.

In testimony at the trial, police testified that he showed little emotion over the child's death, except in what seemed to be staged outbursts. It was also revealed that he visited his vehicle once during a lunch break to drop off light bulbs, but he claimed he did not notice Cooper.

Harris, who did not take the stand, is allowed to speak on his own behalf to the judge at the sentencing hearing.

His attorneys will likely present character witnesses to the court, but it was unclear if his former wife, Leanna Taylor, will testify. During the trial, she said Harris “ruined her life” but she believes he loved their child and he did not intentionally harm him.

The sentencing will take place in Marietta. The trial was moved 300 miles from the Atlanta suburb because the judge ruled that an impartial jury could not be found there.

Harris’ attorneys say they will appeal the conviction, but the grounds for an appeal were not immediately stated.

(Editing by Frank McGurty and Matthew Lewis)