ATLANTA (AP) – Georgia’s highest court overturned the verdict on Wednesday convictions for murder and child abuse to a man whose toddler son died after leaving him in a hot car for hours, saying the jury saw evidence that was “extremely and unfairly harmful”.
Justin Ross Harris, 41, was convicted in November 2016 on eight counts, including willful murder in the death of his 22-month-old son, Cooper. A judge sentenced him to life without parole, as well as 32 years in prison for other crimes.
All Georgia Supreme Court justices agreed there was enough evidence to support Harris’s convictions, but the 134-page majority opinion written by Chief Justice David Nahmias says much of the evidence involved the sexual assault. Harris’s activities should not have existed. admitted and may have improperly influenced the jury. The ruling means that Harris is entitled to a new trial against him for murder and child abuse.
“We are very grateful and grateful that we will have a new trial,” said Harris’ attorney, Mitch Durham.
The Supreme Court upheld Harris’ convictions for three sex offenses committed against a 16-year-old girl that Harris had not appealed. He received a total of 12 years in prison for those crimes.
The Cobb County County Attorney’s office plans to file a request for reconsideration in the case, according to an emailed statement.
Prosecutors argued that Harris was unhappy in his marriage and deliberately killed his son to free himself. To support this theory, they presented extensive evidence of extramarital sexual activities he performed, including exchange sexually explicit messages and graphic pictures with women and girls and meeting some of them for sex.
Defense lawyers described him as a loving father and said the boy’s death was a… tragic accident†
The 6-3 majority opinion says the jury has “heard and seen an extensive body of unlawfully admitted evidence”. It says that while prosecutors portrayed Harris as a man who “willfully and maliciously” abandoned his child to die in the summer heat, they also presented “a substantial body of evidence to lead the jury to find a different and more legally problematic question: what kind of man is (Harris)?”
Harris, who moved from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to the Atlanta area for work in 2012, told police he forgot to drop his son off at daycare on the morning of June 18, 2014, while going straight to his job as a web developer for Home drove. Depot without realizing that Cooper was still in his car seat.
Cooper died after spending about seven hours in the back seat of the Hyundai Tucson SUV outside his father’s office in suburban Atlanta, where temperatures reached at least the high 80s that day.
No one disputes that Harris left his son in the SUV instead of dropping him off at daycare and that the heat in the vehicle caused the boy’s death. The only disputed matter was whether Harris “willfully and maliciously left his child to suffer that painful death,” Nahmias wrote.
While some of the evidence was fit to establish Harris’s theory of motive, the court should have ruled out much of it, Nahmias wrote. Highly damaging evidence included evidence that Harris exchanged lewd and sometimes illegal messages and photos with four minors, color photos of his genitals extracted from text messages and blown up to show in court, and evidence that he hired a prostitute, the opinion said.
The state “conclusively demonstrated that (Harris) was a womanizer, a pervert and even a sexual predator,” Nahmias wrote. “This evidence did little, if anything, to answer the core question of (Harris’) intentions when he ran away from Cooper, but it would probably lead the jurors to conclude that (Harris) was the kind of man who would deal with other morally repulsive behavior (such as leaving his child to die painfully in a hot car) and deserved that punishment, even if the jurors weren’t convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that he killed Cooper on purpose.
The correctly admitted evidence that Harris intended his child to die was “far from overwhelming,” Nahmias wrote, adding that “we cannot say that it is highly probable that the falsely admitted sexual evidence did not contribute to the jury convictions.”
Justice Charlie Bethel wrote a partial dissent that was joined by Justice Shawn LaGrua and Justice Verda Colvin. He said the state “had the right to provide detailed evidence of the nature, magnitude and magnitude of the truly sinister motive it attributed to Harris.” For that reason, Bethel wrote, the court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the disputed evidence.