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Tuesday, May 28, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

State Says Dad in Hot-Car Case Had ‘Double Life’

(CN) — In a highly anticipated hot-car death trial underway in Georgia, prosecutors claim a father intentionally killed his infant son because the child was an inconvenience to his sex life.

Defendant Justin Ross Harris, 35, is accused of intentionally leaving his 22-month-old son Cooper in a hot car to die in June 2014.

Despite needing just one more juror to begin the trial, Cobb County Superior Court Judge Mary Staley ruled for a change of venue on May 5, finding that media coverage of the case had made potential jurors form negative opinions of Harris.

Harris faces eight criminal charges, including malice murder and felony murder. He has also been charged with criminal attempt to commit sexual exploitation and dissemination of harmful material to minors.

During opening statements on Monday, the prosecution painted a picture of a man leading a "double life." Cobb County senior assistant district attorney Chuck Boring said Harris thought of his child as an inconvenience and was in love with a woman he had met online.

Harris' sex life, including text messages and social media exchanges with underage girls, is expected to be a focal point in the trial.

Defense attorney Maddox Kilgore told the jury that his client's alleged sexting had nothing to do with Cooper's death.

Kilgore admitted that Harris was involved in "sexually immoral behavior" before his son's death, but said that was no motive for him to intentionally kill the child.

The judge denied the defense's motion to stop a prostitute from testifying. The woman has said she is "90 percent" sure that Harris was a client of hers.

Prosecutors say Harris initially misled authorities to convince them that he had accidentally left his son in the car.

"Responsibility isn't the same thing as criminal," Kilgore said. "Ross loved that little boy more than anything."

Boring, however, said there was "overwhelming evidence this was no accident."

Kilgore showed the jury a police camera video taken on the day Cooper died. In the video, Harris was screaming at officers. He cried as the video was played.

The defense also showed video footage of Harris crying in an interview room at the Cobb police station.

"Oh my God, what have I done?" Harris said. "I killed my son. I'm so sorry, Cooper. I'm so sorry."

Cobb County police investigator Jacqueline Piper was the first witness called to the stand and testified that Harris acted unusually calm and collected after realizing his son was dead.

"He started a monotone yelling that seemed really forced," Piper said. "I found it kind of unusual."

Piper's testimony revealed that Harris told officers, "Shut the f*ck up, my son just died," before being handcuffed and placed in a police car.

In the police car, Piper testified, Harris never mentioned his son but casually struck up a conversation with her while being taken to the police station.

"I didn't see any crying," Piper said. "His face wasn't wet."

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