Convicted father denied new trial in Georgia toddler’s hot car death

Posted at 8:47 AM, May 25, 2021 and last updated 4:57 PM, July 5, 2023

COBB COUNTY, Ga. (Court TV) – A judge has denied a motion for a new trial for the father convicted in the hot car death of his toddler son, according to official court documents. Justin Ross Harris was seeking a new trial on the grounds that his extramarital affairs should not have been heard by the jury in his murder trial.

Cobb County, Georgia Superior Court Judge Mary Staley Clark ruled, “the evidence present was sufficient to sustain Harris’ convictions beyond a reasonable doubt.”

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Harris is serving a life sentence for the June 18, 2014, death of 22-month-old Cooper Harris. Cooper died in the backseat of his father’s SUV. The toddler had been trapped for more than six hours, with temperatures in the vehicle reaching above 100 degrees. An autopsy later confirmed he died of hyperthermia.

The morning of Cooper’s death, surveillance video captured Harris holding the boy and ordering breakfast at a local Chick-fil-A. Harris told authorities he intended to drop Cooper off at daycare but forgot. He then drove to his workplace at the metro-Atlanta Home Depot headquarters and exited his vehicle, leaving Cooper in the backseat. He later found Cooper’s body while in his vehicle. Harris was arrested that evening.

The highly-publicized investigation revealed sordid details about Harris’s double life. Cellphone records revealed the married father had been sexting with several women, including a 17-year-old girl. Prosecutors claimed he murdered his son to live a “child-free life.” By the time Harris stood trial in 2016, the pre-trial publicity and public bias led the case to move to Glynn County, hundreds of miles away from the location of the incident.

Harris was ultimately found guilty of multiple charges, including two counts of felony murder and two counts of dissemination of harmful material to minors. Now, four years after the sentence, he’s seeking a new trial. His defense team claims he was denied a fair trial when the court failed to sever unrelated charges tied to his sexual infidelities and sexting underage girls. Further stating the court forced Harris to defend himself against a charge of intentional murder of a child, after drowning the jury in morally reprehensible bad character evidence.

Harris’s hearing will begin Monday, December 14 in Cobb County and is expected to last two days. Court TV will carry the proceedings live.


DAY 1:

  • Neuroscientist Dr. David Diamond, an expert witness in memory and the brain, shares the opinion he would have delivered at trial had the defense decided to call him: Harris experienced memory failure when he left Cooper in the car and did not intentionally leave him in the backseat to die
  • Harris trial lawyer lawyer H. Maddox Kilgore explains why the defense chose not call Diamond: They felt the defense strategy was compromised by the court’s order to hand over to the state Diamond’s notes on Harris
  • Diamond tells Court TV’s Chanley Painter that Harris’ case marked the first time in his career that he reached out to the defense offering assistance after telling prosecutors he could not render the opinion they wanted

DAY 2:

  • Trial lawyer Carlos Rodriguez testified about digital evidence in the case. Rodriguez accused detectives of twisting Harris’ comments on the social media app Whisper to appear as if he said he wanted to be free of parenting responsibilities. Rodriguez said the intent of Harris’ comment – I love my son, but we all need escapes – was much more benign.
  • Assistant District Attorney Jesse Evans later told Court TV’s Michael Ayala that the timing of Harris’ comment — within minutes of leaving Cooper in the car – imbued it with a sinister intent. Evans also denied that law enforcement lied or twisted the evidence to suit the state’s theory that Harris killed Cooper so he’d be free to pursue extramarital affairs, accusing the defense of quibbling over semantics to undermine the state’s case.
  • The court heard from all three of Justin Ross Harris’ trial lawyers on Tuesday before appellate attorneys argued their positions on whether the convicted murderer deserves a new trial for the 2014 hot car death of his son, Cooper.
  • The court will regroup in January after the state and defense file briefs on constitutional issues implicated in Justin Ross Harris’ new trial motion.