COBB COUNTY, Ga. — The Cobb County District Attorney’s Office announced Thursday that they will not retry a man accused of murdering his two-year-old son by leaving him in a hot car.
Ross Harris was convicted of all eight counts related to the death of his son, Cooper, on Nov. 14, 2016.
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Harris told police he forgot to drop 22-month-old Cooper at day care on the morning of June 18, 2014, driving straight to his job as a web developer for Home Depot without remembering that Cooper was still in his car seat.
Cooper died after sitting for about seven hours in the back seat of the vehicle outside his father’s office. Temperatures that day reached at least into the high 80s.
The case attracted national attention.
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During the trial, prosecutors presented evidence that Harris was having multiple extramarital affairs, several with underage teenage girls.
They argued that Harris killed his son so he would no longer be a parent or a husband and could pursue other sexual relationships.
Harris appealed his convictions for murder and first-degree child cruelty in 2022.
In his appeal, Harris and his attorneys argued the evidence presented at the trial wasn’t enough and the trial focused too much on his extramarital, and sometimes illegal, sexual activities.
The Georgia Supreme Court took up the case and ultimately reversed the counts related to Cooper’s death because the jury “heard and saw an extensive amount of improperly admitted evidence,” the court said in a release.
Channel Action News talked to legal experts after the counts were reversed, who said they weren’t surprised by the Supreme Court’s ruling. They said that during the trial, Cobb County prosecutors did a good job showing Harris was a lousy husband and a horrible person, but trying to show he intentionally killed his son was a little harder to prove.
The District Attorney’s office Thursday said that though they disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision, they are bound by it.
They also said that since “crucial motive evidence” that was admitted at the first trial is no longer available because of the Supreme Court’s decision, they determined that the could not try the case again.
“After much thought and deliberation, we have made the difficult decision to not retry Justin Ross Harris on the reversed counts of the indictment,” the DA’s office said in a statement. “Cooper will always be remembered by this Office and those who fought for him.”
Harris stands convicted of the remaining counts of the indictment, including criminal attempt to commit sexual exploitation of children and dissemination of harmful material to minors.
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He was sentenced to 12 years in prison on those counts. His sentence officially began on Dec. 06, 2016, which means he has about 6 1/2 years left to serve at Macon State Prison.
Channel 2 Action News reached out to the parole board, which said it has not received an amended sentencing order.
“If the District Attorney has made the decision not to retry the case and that decision results in the offender becoming parole eligible, then the board must provide the offender with meaningful parole consideration,” officials said.
Harris’ lawyers issued a statement after the decision by the D.A.’s office Thursday, writing, in part:
“Ross has always accepted the moral responsibility for Cooper’s death. But after all these years of investigation and review, this dismissal of charges confirms that Cooper’s death was unintentional and therefore not a crime... Charging a grieving parent for an unintentional memory failure does nothing to prevent the tragedy from happening to another. In fact, child fatalities from hot cars increased after Ross’ 2016 trial, the most widely reported hot car death case in history.”
Harris’ attorneys said he deeply loved his son.
“Ross is no doubt relieved at the dismissal of the charges against him, but he is also thankful that today’s dismissal may begin to restore Cooper’s legacy as a child much loved by his parents.”
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