Justin Ross Harris, whose toddler son died in a hot car in June 2014, is now on trial for murder. Although the defendant claims he made an honest mistake, Harris was arrested and charged with cruelty and neglect in the death of his 22-month-old son, Cooper.
In June 2014, Justin Ross Harris was expected to drop his 22-month-old son at daycare before heading to his job at Home Depot in uptown Atlanta, where he worked as an IT professional. Harris claims he simply forgot his son was still in the car.
Cooper was subsequently buckled in the backseat of the family SUV for a total of seven hours on a blistering day, with temperatures reaching 90 degrees. The toddler eventually died in the hot car, as he suffered from hyperthermia.
Justin Ross Harris was arrested and charged with murder and cruelty to children.
Initially, there was overwhelming support for the father, as evidenced by a Change.org petition, which gained more than 11,000 signatures. The petition sided with the defendant, who claimed he made a terrible mistake.
“The father loved his son immensely… Justin already has to live with a punishment worse than death. Sending what is left of his family into bankruptcy to defend himself against these charges is only bringing more hardship to a family that will never recover from the loss of a child. There is nothing to indicate that the father intentionally left his child in the car, so a charge of murder is not appropriate.”
Although the petition was just short of receiving the goal of 15,000 signatures, it was withdrawn when disturbing details about Justin Ross Harris’ personal life came to light
Authorities said Harris’ online activity proved he was researching hot car deaths and twice watched an online video of an animal trapped inside a hot car.
He also was a frequent visitor to a site that celebrated a “child-free lifestyle.” In reply to an anonymous woman, who posted she was tired of being married with children, Harris reportedly replied, “I love my son and all, but we both need escapes.” Justin Ross Harris’ chilling message was posted within hours of the toddler hot car death.
According to reports, Harris was also a “serial sexter” and frequently used apps including Skout and Kik to engage in sexual conversations with women. Authorities confirmed he had six such conversations while his son was locked inside the hot car, including a 16 year-old-girl who he sent an explicit picture and urged to respond in kind.
— WHIOTV (@whiotv) April 11, 2016
Justin Ross Harris’ defense attorney said his private business has nothing to do with Cooper’s death and the focus on his client’s sexual exploits would only lead to an unfair trial.
Authorities also contend Harris owed over $4,000 in credit card debt and had inquired as to how he could cash out two insurance policies, which were worth $25,000 and $2,000. Both policies were taken out by Harris and his wife on their son, Cooper.
The murder trial of Justin Ross Harris began Friday in Cobb County Superior Court. Although the incident occurred in 2014, prosecutors are having trouble assembling a jury.
The court is struggling to find residents who are able to report for jury duty, because they are expected to spend at least eight weeks in the courtroom. Legal experts say it is simply too much for those who work and have children. Court officials said an unusual number of prospective jurors asked Judge Mary Staley to excuse them from the sensational case.
According to the Atlanta Journal, court officials called over 550 residents to report to jury duty, hoping to get a dozen unprejudiced jurors and six alternates for one of the biggest trials in Cobb County history.
— WBRC FOX6 News (@WBRCnews) April 11, 2016
Although the number of prospective jurors is unusually high, it is not a record for Georgia. In 2008, Fulton County court officials sent out an unparalleled 3,500 summons in the quest to find a dozen jurors and six alternates for the murder trial of Brian Nichols.
Justin Ross Harris vehemently denies claims that he intentional left his toddler son locked inside the hot car. However, he is now facing murder charges in his son’s death. Jury selection will continue on Monday.
[Image via VWJW]