ATLANTA—A judge is set to sentence a Georgia man Monday after a jury last month found that he intentionally left his toddler son in a hot SUV to die.
A jury convicted Justin Ross Harris, 36, in the June 2014 death of his 22-month-old son, Cooper.
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.
Here are some things to know before his sentencing:
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.
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, located on the Georgia coast about 60 miles south of Savannah, 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.
LIFE WITH OR WITHOUT THE POSSIBILITY OF PAROLE
Jurors found Harris guilty of malice murder, which means they believed not only that he should be held criminally responsible for his son’s death, but that he left the young boy die on purpose. Malice murder carries a sentence of life in prison, which means the main question at sentencing will be whether or not he will ever have the opportunity to seek parole.
Staley Clark, the judge, is alone responsible for determining Harris’ sentence at a hearing Monday in Cobb County. Prosecutors and defense attorneys will both be given the opportunity to present evidence at the hearing. Harris, who did not testify at trial, will also be given the chance to address the judge.