Georgia man who left toddler son to die in sweltering car so he could have sex with mistresses seeks retrial
Harris was granted the right nearly four years after he was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole
COBB COUNTY, GEORGIA: A man who was convicted of leaving his toddler son in a hot car for hours has been granted the right to appeal for a new trial, nearly four years after the original.
Justin Ross Harris was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the June 2014 death of his 22-month-old son, Cooper Harris, who had died after he was left sitting in his father's sweltering car for nearly seven hours.
The case had made national headlines and had to be moved to Brunswick, Georgia after it was determined that he could not get a fair trial in Cobb County because of the publicity.
Harris, a Home Depot web designer, said the death was an accident and that he thought he had dropped his son off at daycare on his way to work in Atlanta, Georgia.
Prosecutors, however, charged him with murder, as well as cruelty to children and sexual exploitation of a minor. They pointed to evidence that showed that during the last few hours of his son's life, Harris was sending sexually explicit messages to a minor.
They argued that Harris wanted his son dead so he could pursue sexual relationships outside his marriage and called to witness eight women who testified they either had sex with him or exchanged sexual text messages, including nude photographs.
"He was living a double life," said prosecutor Chuck Boring at the time. "This wasn’t just an affair type of thing. It was an obsession — pervasive acts constantly on the internet and meeting up with people... I think he was just having less and less time with the family to be able to do as much as he wanted and to live the life he wanted."
Harris' attorney insisted that the death was an accident unrelated to the cheating, which was a view that was shared by his then-wife Leanna Taylor.
Despite filing for divorce after learning of Harris' infidelity, Taylor testified in his defense at the trial and said that, despite his moral failures, he would never intentionally hurt their son.
"There was evidence in our relationship that would suggest that he would be capable of being unfaithful to me," she said. "There is no evidence in our relationship that suggests he would harm anyone, much less his own son."
He was eventually convicted of all eight counts, with Superior Court Judge Mary Staley telling Harris he had "intentionally and unnecessarily" inflicted "wanton, severe physical and mental pain and agony" on his son.
"What factually was a horrendous horrific experience for this 22-month old child who had been placed in the trust of his father and in violation and dereliction of duty to that child, if not love of that child, callously walked away and left that child in a hot car in June in Georgia in the summer to swelter and die," she said.
Taylor reiterated the view in an interview after the trial and said she refuses to believe what happened was anything but a horrible accident.
"This does happen. It has happened to other families, and it has been proven to be an accident in other cases," she said. "It’s a horrible thing to try to accept as a parent that you could forget your child in your car and bring harm to them."
Clark, who presided over his original trial in 2016, will be hearing his motion for a new trial on December 14, 15, and 16. If the judges rule against the motion for a new trial, Harris may appeal in the Supreme Court.