Georgia’s highest court docket has overturned the homicide conviction of Justin Ross Harris, the Cobb County father sentenced to life without parole for the 2014 hot-car demise of his 22-month-old son, Cooper.
In an opinion issued Wednesday, the Georgia Supreme Courtroom dominated 6-3 that proof submitted by prosecutors of Harris’ extramarital sexual relationships – which the state portrayed because the motivation behind his choice to kill his son – had unfair prejudicial influence on the jury.
“As a result of the correctly admitted proof that Appellant maliciously and deliberately left Cooper to die was removed from overwhelming,” the court docket’s opinion mentioned, “we can’t say that it’s extremely possible that the erroneously admitted sexual proof didn’t contribute to the jury’s responsible verdicts.”
Along with three counts of homicide, Harris was discovered responsible of two counts of cruelty to kids for Cooper’s demise, and responsible of three counts associated to his digital exchanges of lewd materials with a minors.
Per its ruling, the Georgia Supreme Courtroom solely reversed Harris’ convictions concerning the crimes towards his son; Harris had not challenged the others in his attraction, the ruling mentioned, and so they stay in place.
Harris was sentenced to 12 years in all on these three prices: Ten years for one depend of try to commit sexual exploitation of a kid, and one yr every for 2 counts of dissemination of dangerous materials to a minor, based on the court docket’s ruling.
The Cobb County District Legal professional’s Workplace plans to file a movement for the court docket to rethink its ruling, the workplace mentioned in an announcement Wednesday. The workplace declined additional remark when contacted by CNN, saying “the opinion is an in depth one and we’re nonetheless within the evaluation course of.”
CNN reached out to attorneys for Harris for remark however didn’t instantly hear again.
On a sizzling summer time day in June 2014, Harris strapped Cooper into his rear-facing automotive seat at the back of his automotive and drove from his household’s residence to a close-by Chick-fil-A.
As a substitute of dropping his son off at day care afterward, he went to work, parked and went inside, leaving Cooper strapped within the automotive for the following seven hours.
He stopped by the automotive early that afternoon, purportedly to place away some gentle bulbs he had bought. But it surely wasn’t till that afternoon whereas he was driving to a close-by movie show that Harris claimed to note his son was nonetheless within the automotive. He pulled into a shopping mall car parking zone, pulling the kid’s physique from the SUV.
Whereas witnesses on the scene mentioned Harris appeared distraught, Cobb County prosecutors argued at trial he deliberately left Cooper locked inside his automotive that day so he may very well be freed from household obligations.
Protection attorneys, meantime, argued Cooper’s demise was a tragic accident brought on by his father’s lapse in reminiscence.
To make their case, prosecutors pointed to what they described as a “double life.” In a single, Cooper was a loving father and husband to his spouse, household and buddies. However he was additionally engaged in on-line sexual communication with a number of girls — together with two underage ladies — whereas additionally carrying on extramarital sexual encounters in public.
On the day Harris was accused of deliberately leaving his son within the sizzling automotive, he was sexting with six girls, together with a minor, based on telephone information.
Protection attorneys rejected this, sustaining Harris’ sexual conduct was unrelated to his son’s demise. However the state, his legal professional mentioned in closing arguments, was utilizing it to color his shopper as “so immoral, he’s so reprehensible that he can do precisely this.”
The Georgia Supreme Courtroom evidently agreed, with the bulk writing of their opinion Wednesday that prosecutors introduced “intensive proof” that “convincingly demonstrated that Appellant was a philanderer, a pervert, and even a sexual predator.”
“That proof did little if something to reply the important thing query of Appellant’s intent when he walked away from Cooper,” the opinion mentioned, “nevertheless it was more likely to lead the jurors to conclude that Appellant was the form of man who would interact in different morally repulsive conduct (like leaving his baby to die painfully in a sizzling automotive) and who deserved punishment …”
The court docket dominated that the proof introduced at trial was “legally ample” to assist the homicide conviction. Nonetheless, whereas a few of the proof about Harris’ sexual actions “was correctly admissible,” the trial court docket ought to have excluded a lot of the proof, the court docket mentioned, “as a result of it was needlessly cumulative and prejudicial.”
Three justices dissented partially, with one writing there was no query concerning the circumstances of Cooper’s demise. In consequence, “intent was the lynchpin of the case,” the dissenting opinion learn.
To show the speculation they introduced to the jury, prosecutors wanted to show the defendant’s “sexual appetites … have been so robust and uncontrolled” that he would “take the seemingly unfathomable step” of leaving his son within the automotive on objective.
Given the state needed to show the “allegedly limitless extent of these wishes and the extent of depravity” prosecutors alleged, the trial court docket had “the discretion to confess an in depth and wide-ranging physique of proof regarding these points,” the opinion mentioned.