A Georgia man sentenced to life in prison for leaving his toddler to die in a hot car in 2014 has been overturned by the state Supreme Court for murder.
The Georgia Supreme Court, in an opinion released Wednesday, said the evidence that Justin Ross Harris deliberately and maliciously left his 22-month-old son Cooper in his car to die is “far from conclusive” and that the jury likely leaned in instead. benefiting their conviction based on the extensive evidence presented about Harris’s extramarital affairs.
“This evidence did little to answer the key question [Harris’] intention when he left Cooper,” Chief Justice David Nahmias wrote of Harris’ documented conversations with six women on the day of his son’s death.
Nahmias said that this evidence “could have led the jury to conclude that [Harris] was the kind of person who did other morally repulsive things (like leaving his child to die painfully in a hot car) and deserved to be punished, even if the jury was not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that he deliberately killed Cooper.”
Harris was found guilty of first and second degree murder and child abuse. He was also convicted of criminal attempt to sexually exploit a child because of explicit messages he sent to a teenage girl. According to Nahmias, Harris was “obviously guilty” of these sex crimes.
The Cobb County District Attorney’s office said in a statement that it plans to file a motion for a retrial in Harris’ case.
The then-married father insisted that he simply mistakenly forgot to take his son to kindergarten before leaving for work on the morning of June 18, 2014. Cooper sat in his car seat in Harris’s car for nearly seven hours as the temperature peaked. 100 degrees inside. He ended up dying of hyperthermia, the court heard.
Witnesses and police testified during the trial that Harris either had little reaction when he found his son dead in his car or reacted hysterically as if it had been staged, although these people also testified that they did not know him or how he reacted to the injury. .
The accusers also spoke about how Harris was unhappy with his marriage and that he only stayed married to his wife because of his son. They said he was motivated to kill his child so that he could get a divorce and continue sexual relations.
The judge argued that there was minimal evidence to support this motive.
“We do not know if [Harris] planned and executed the horrific murder of his 22-month-old son, leaving him to suffer and die slowly in a red-hot car, or rather if [Harris] made the tragic, fatal mistake of forgetting that the child that almost everyone thought was loved and cherished was in the back seat,” Nahmias said.
Harris’ defense attorney during the trial did not immediately respond to a HuffPost request for comment on Wednesday.