Justin Ross Harris’ murder conviction in his son’s hot-car death overturned

In an opinion issued Wednesday, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled 6 to 3 that evidence submitted by prosecutors of Harris’ extramarital sex – which the state has described as the motivation behind its decision to kill her son – had an impact prejudicial unfair on the jury. .

“Because the properly admitted evidence that the appellant maliciously and intentionally allowed Cooper to die was far from overwhelming,” the court said, “we cannot say that it is highly probable that the sex evidence wrongly admitted did not contribute to the jury’s guilty verdicts.”

In addition to three counts of murder, Harris was found guilty of two counts of child cruelty for Cooper’s death and guilty of three counts related to his electronic exchanges of obscene material with minors.

According to its ruling, the Georgia Supreme Court only overturned Harris’s convictions relating to the crimes against her son; Harris had not contested the others in his appeal, according to the ruling, and they remain in place.

Harris was sentenced to 12 years in total on those three counts: ten years on one count of attempted sexual exploitation of a child and one year each for two counts of disseminating material harmful to a minor, according to the court decision.

The Cobb County District Attorney’s Office plans to file a motion for the court to reconsider its decision, the office said in a statement Wednesday. The bureau declined to comment further when contacted by CNN, saying “the opinion is thorough and we are still in the review process.”

CNN reached out to Harris’ attorneys for comment, but did not immediately respond.

The child died after 7 hours in a hot car

On a hot summer day in June 2014, Harris strapped Cooper into his rear-facing car seat in the back of his car and drove from his family’s house to a Chick-fil-A in proximity.

Instead of dropping his son off at daycare afterwards, he drove to work, parked, and drove inside, leaving Cooper tied up in the car for the next seven hours.

He stopped by the car in the early afternoon, supposedly to put away some light bulbs he had bought. But it wasn’t until that afternoon, while driving to a nearby movie theater, that Harris said he noticed his son was still in the car. He pulled into a mall parking lot, pulling the child’s body from the SUV.

While witnesses at the scene said Harris appeared distraught, Cobb County prosecutors argued at trial that he intentionally left Cooper locked in his car that day so he could be released from his duties. family.

Defense attorneys, meanwhile, argued that Cooper’s death was a tragic accident caused by forgetting his father.

The evidence did little to answer the question of intent, according to court rules

In making their case, prosecutors pointed to what they described as a “double life.” In one, Cooper was a loving father and husband to his wife, family and friends. But he was also engaged in online sexual communications with several women – including two underage girls – while having extramarital sex in public.

On the day Harris was accused of intentionally leaving his son in the hot car, he was sexting with six women, including a minor, according to phone records.

Defense attorneys dismissed this, saying Harris’ sexual behavior was unrelated to her son’s death. But the state, his attorney said in closing arguments, was using it to portray his client as “so immoral, he’s so reprehensible that he can do just that.”

The Georgia Supreme Court evidently agreed, with the majority writing in its opinion on Wednesday that prosecutors had presented “extensive evidence” that “convincingly demonstrated that the appellant was a womanizer, a pervert, and even a sexual predator.” .

Justin Ross Harris trial: Jury must weigh father's fate in boy's car death

“This evidence did little, if anything, to answer the key question of the appellant’s intention when he walked away from Cooper,” the opinion said, “but it was likely to lead the jurors to conclude that the appellant was the kind of man who would engage in other morally repugnant conduct (like leaving his child to die painfully in a hot car) and who deserved punishment…”

The court ruled that the evidence presented at trial was “legally sufficient” to support the murder conviction. However, while some of the evidence about Harris’ sexual activities “was duly admissible”, the trial court should have excluded much of the evidence, the court said, “because it was unnecessarily cumulative and prejudicial”.

Three judges dissented in part, with one writing that there was no doubt about the circumstances of Cooper’s death. Accordingly, “intent was the keystone of the case,” the dissenting opinion reads.

To prove the theory they presented to the jury, prosecutors had to prove that the defendant’s ‘sexual appetites … were so strong and uncontrolled’ that he would ‘make the seemingly inscrutable decision’ to leave his son in the car on purpose. .

Since the state had to prove “the allegedly limitless extent of these desires and the level of depravity” alleged by prosecutors, the trial court had “the discretion to admit a detailed and extensive body of evidence regarding these questions”, according to the opinion.

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