Georgia man found guilty of murder in toddler son's hot-car death

Rich McKay, Reuters

Posted at Nov 15 2016 10:03 AM

Justin Ross Harris, arrested for allegedly leaving his young son in a hot car resulting in his death, wipes away tears at a bail hearing in Cobb County Magistrate Court in Marietta, Georgia July 3, 2014. Reuters

ATLANTA - A Georgia man accused of wanting a child-free life was found guilty by jurors on Monday of murdering his toddler son in June 2014 by leaving him in a sweltering car to die.

Justin Ross Harris, 35, could be sent to life in prison for the death of 22-month-old Cooper, who was left strapped in his car seat for seven hours on a hot day outside his father's suburban Atlanta workplace. Sentencing is set for Dec. 5.

Jurors deliberated over four days before finding Harris guilty of all eight counts against him. In addition to the murder allegations, he stood trial on charges of child cruelty and sex crimes related to explicit texts that he sent to a teenage girl.

"I believe justice was served today on behalf of young Cooper Harris," Cobb County District Attorney Vic Reynolds said in a statement after the verdicts were read.

Harris' attorney Maddox Kilgore said at a press conference that the defense team planned to appeal the conviction, saying they "never once wavered in our absolute belief he's innocent."

During the five-week trial, prosecutors argued the father intentionally allowed his child to suffer so Harris could be free of his marriage and fatherhood and continue to pursue extramarital affairs.

Phone and internet records showed Harris was sending explicit messages for much of the day while his son was dying inside the hot car.

The defense countered that the death was accidental, saying Harris was a flawed man who simply forgot his son was in the car.

The boy's mother, who divorced Harris after Cooper's death, testified that though her ex-husband "ruined her life," she believed he would never have tried to harm their child.

Harris remained stoic as the verdicts were read on Monday. During the trial, he wept many times at the defense table, particularly when pictures of his dead son were shown to the jury.

The trial was held in Brunswick, Georgia, some 300 miles (500 km) from suburban Atlanta, after the court failed to seat an impartial jury last spring. The sentencing proceedings will take place back in Cobb County, prosecutors said. (Reporting by Rich McKay; Writing by Letitia Stein and Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Sandra Maler)