New charges filed against man accused in hot SUV death

AP News
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Posted: Mar 04, 2016 5:49 PM

ATLANTA (AP) — A Georgia man accused of intentionally leaving his toddler son to die in a hot SUV faces new charges of sharing sexually explicit communications with underage girls, according to an indictment prosecutors filed Friday.

The new indictment charges Justin Ross Harris with two counts of sexual exploitation of children and six counts of dissemination of harmful material to minors. Harris already faced multiple charges, including murder, in the June 2014 death of his son Cooper.

His trial on the original charges is set to begin April 11.

"We are concerned that the timing of this indictment is a calculated maneuver to inflame public opinion against Ross on the eve of jury selection," Harris' attorney Maddox Kilgore said in an emailed statement. "It is clear that these allegations are wholly unrelated to the accidental death of Cooper Harris."

The state has investigated every aspect of Harris' life for nearly two years, and makes no new allegations of cruelty, abuse or neglect in the new indictment, Kilgore said.

"The content and timing of this indictment confirms the absence of such evidence, and it signals the State's desperation to convict Ross of the worst mistake any of us as parents could make," he said.

Cobb County District Attorney Vic Reynolds said in an emailed statement that the new charges stem from advances in electronic forensic analysis and newly discovered victims. If the state had waited any longer to file the new charges some would have been barred by the statute of limitations, he said.

The indictment names three separate underage girls and says he had lewd photos of two of them, sent nude photos to two of them and gave two of them printed material containing "explicit and detailed verbal descriptions and narrative accounts of sexual excitement and sexual conduct."

Harris was previously indicted in September 2014 on multiple charges, including malice murder, felony murder and cruelty to children. That indictment also includes charges related to accusations that Harris tried to get an underage girl to send him a photo of her genitalia, had sexually explicit online conversations with her and sent her a sexually explicit photo.

Police have said the boy was left in an SUV for about seven hours on a day when temperatures in the Atlanta area reached at least into the high 80s. The medical examiner's office has said the boy died of hyperthermia — essentially overheating — and called his death a homicide.

Harris has been in jail without bond since the day his son died. His lawyers have said the boy's death was a tragic accident.

Harris is a native of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and moved to Georgia in 2012 to work for Home Depot.