Georgia Dad Who 'Sexted' While Toddler Son Died in Hot Car Gets Murder Conviction Overturned
Justin Ross Harris left his toddler son in a hot car for seven hours outside his office and had "sexted" with six women while at work, prosecutors said.
The Georgia Supreme Court has overturned the murder conviction of Justin Ross Harris, who was sentenced to life in prison without parole for the hot car death of his toddler son in 2014.
Harris' heavily publicized trial had included evidence presented by prosecutors that Harris had "sexted" six women while his son was strapped inside his rear-facing car seat inside his father's stifling vehicle parked outside a Home Depot corporate office in Marietta.
The state's highest court ruled Wednesday in a 6-3 opinion that Harris failed to receive a fair trial because the trial judge allowed days of highly prejudicial testimony about the father's extramarital sexual activities, including hiring a prostitute and sending explicit photos and texts to minors.
The ruling also said that evidence presented by prosecutors claiming Harris intentionally left his son to die "was far from overwhelming."
Prosecutors argued Harris "maliciously and intentionally" left Cooper to die so he could pursue a life with sexual freedom.
The explicit sexual evidence “ensured that the jurors didn’t miss the point that he was a repulsive person,” Chief Justice David Nahmias wrote for the majority. "But if Harris is to be found guilty of his son’s murder, it will need to be by a jury not tainted by that sort of evidence,” Nahmias wrote.
Harris is now entitled to a new trial on the murder charge. But he will remain in prison because the high court upheld his three convictions involving his attempted sexual exploitation of a minor and his texting sexually graphic photos to her. For that, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison. He has been behind bars since Cooper's death on June 18, 2014.
The child's mother, who has since divorced Harris, told media outlets including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that she did not believe Harris intentionally killed Cooper.
“I don’t believe he planned the murder of his child, our child, I don’t believe that,” Leanna Taylor told the paper. “I don’t think he deserves to be in prison for the rest of his life."
On Thursday, Taylor said in a statement to the outlet, "While this will not change anything about my day-to-day, I do hope that it shows people what those closest to the case have been saying since the beginning: Ross was a loving and proud father to Cooper,” she said.
"At the same time, Ross was being a terrible husband. These two things can, and did, exist at the same time," Taylor said.
Harris and his defense attorneys said Cooper's death was a tragic accident, and that the father had simply forgotten to drop his son at day care on a busy morning as he rushed to work.
Harris' lawyers praised the high court ruling reversing their client's murder conviction.
The Cobb County District Attorney's Office said Wednesday in a statement that it plans to file a motion for the court to reconsider its ruling.
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