COBB COUNTY, Ga. - A man who police believe intentionally killed his son is in court more than a year after the death of the child inside a hot car in Cobb County.
Cooper Harris, 2, died after he was left inside his father’s hot car for more than seven hours on June 18, 2014.
Justin Ross Harris made his first court appearance in more than a year Monday morning as his attorney moved to close pretrial hearings to the media.
Maddox Kilgore, Harris’ lawyer, said his motion extends only to hearings in which prosecution evidence is expected to be discussed.
“All contested evidence is going to become public domain and will be available to any potential juror,” Kilgore said. He said that even if the judge were to dismiss any evidence, “it would be out there, affixed to commentary or analysis.”
Kilgore insisted last year’s long and sensational probable cause hearing, in which many details of Cooper Harris’ death and Ross Harris’ alleged sexting and other incriminating actions were detailed, spoiled the jury.
“You pick up any paper and you watch any telecast in the weeks thereafter and it’s very clear it had a substantial negative impact on public opinion,” Kilgore said. “It does have an effect on potential jurors. Negative reporting has shifted the burden of proof. Mr. Harris has already been condemned.”
Lawyers for WSB-TV argued that cameras should be allowed in the hearings because the information is already out there, and the 24/7 news cycle is here to stay.
“That news information sometimes leads to individuals in social media to express their opinions and make speculation, but that has never been a basis to seal courtrooms,” media attorney Tom Clyde said.
Judge Mary Staley agreed and denied motion to close the case from the public.
Harris was indicted last September on charges including malice murder, felony murder and cruelty to children.
Prosecutors have portrayed him as a pornography-obsessed, would-be playboy seeking a “child-free lifestyle.” They say he studied how long it would take his son to die inside a hot car.
Harris pleaded not guilty and has been held without bond since his arrest.
Hearings in the Harris case will continue through Wednesday.
The judge said she plans on scheduling a trial date in the case sometime next month.
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