MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) — With a trial getting under way for a Georgia man accused of intentionally leaving his toddler son in a hot SUV to die, most of the potential jurors questioned Wednesday said they believe Justin Ross Harris is guilty.
Harris, 35, faces charges including murder in the June 18, 2014, death of his 22-month-old son, Cooper. Police have said the boy died after spending about seven hours in the SUV on a day when Atlanta-area temperatures reached at least into the high 80s.
Prosecutors have said Harris was unhappily married, was unfaithful to his wife and was looking for an escape. Defense attorneys have said their client, who moved from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to Georgia in 2012 to work for Home Depot, was a loving father and that the boy's death was a tragic mistake.
About 250 potential jurors on Tuesday filled out a 17-page questionnaire that included questions about what they know about the case, which has drawn extensive local and national media attention. The first panel was summoned for individual questioning Wednesday, and the lawyers got through eight of those potential jurors: five men and three women.
Once the lawyers have finished questioning 12 potential jurors, they will begin determining whether any of them need to be eliminated. They will continue until they are able to find 12 jurors and enough alternates.
Jury selection is expected to last at least into next week. The juror questionnaire noted the trial could last four to six weeks once opening statements begin.
As questioning began, the lawyers asked potential jurors about where they get their news and what specifically they know about the case. They've also focused on whether the potential jurors believe they've formed an opinion and whether they can be impartial in considering the case.
Those questioned Wednesday said they had heard, seen or read at least some media coverage of the case, and most said they believe Harris is guilty. Most said they couldn't imagine how someone could forget a child and leave him in a vehicle.
Nevertheless, many said they believe they could listen to the evidence at trial and apply the law properly. A few said it would be very difficult to get past their feelings that Harris is guilty.
Some potential jurors said they would have a difficult time with the case given that it involves the death of a child, especially if they're asked to look at unpleasant photo or video evidence.
The lawyers also asked potential jurors whether they like to watch crime shows on television and whether they can separate legal and investigative techniques in those fictional shows from what's possible in reality. There were also questions about their opinions of and interactions with law enforcement officers.