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Georgia father sentenced to life for leaving son in car to die

Glynn County jury found Justin Ross Harris guilty of murder last month

Justin Ross Harris appears at sentencing hearing in DeKalb County, Georgia.
Justin Ross Harris appears at sentencing hearing in DeKalb County, Georgia.

ATLANTA – A judge sentenced a Georgia man who intentionally left his toddler son in a hot SUV to die to two life sentences without parole plus addition time for other, related convictions.

Last month, a Brunswick jury found Justin Ross Harris, 36, guilty in the June 2014 death of his 22-month-old son, Cooper. He was convicted of malice murder, two counts of felony murder, cruelty to children in the first degree, cruelty to children in the second degree, criminal attempt to commit a felony, to wit; sexual exploitation of children and two counts of dissemination of harmful material to minors.

Harris, who did not testify at trial, was given the chance to address the judge, but declined.

"(You) callously walked away and left that child in that car, in Georgia, in June, to swelter and die," Judge Mary Stale said as she pronounced sentence.

Police were suspicious from the start and took Harris into custody in the strip mall parking lot where he had pulled over and removed his son's lifeless body from the SUV. Harris' defense attorneys argued that he was a loving father and that while he was responsible for the boy's death, it was a tragic accident.

Harris' defense team vowed after the trial to appeal the verdict and to seek a new trial. He has 30 days to file an appeal.

THE DEATH

Cooper died after sitting for about seven hours in the back seat of his father's vehicle outside the office where Harris worked in suburban Atlanta on a day when temperatures reached at least into the high 80s.

Harris said he forgot to drop his son off at day care that morning, driving straight to his job as a web developer for Home Depot, not remembering that Cooper was still in his car seat.

Investigators found evidence that Harris was engaging in online flirting and in-person affairs with numerous women other than his wife, including a prostitute and an underage teenager. They concluded that Harris intentionally killed his son to escape the responsibilities of family life.

Harris had moved from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to Georgia for work in 2012.

THE TRIAL

Harris' case received an enormous amount of media attention from the very beginning. The Atlanta media market was saturated with coverage, and it also made national headlines and was fodder for online discussions and cable news shows.

After determining during nearly three weeks of jury selection in April that pretrial publicity had made it too difficult to find a fair jury in Cobb County, where the boy died, Superior Court Judge Mary Staley Clark granted a defense request to relocate the trial.

A jury in Glynn County spent about a month listening to evidence in the case and deliberated for four days before finding him guilty last month of all eight counts against him. In addition to malice murder and felony murder charges, Harris also was found guilty of sending sexual text messages to a teenage girl and sending her nude photos.