COBB COUNTY, Ga. — In 2014, Georgia father Justin Ross Harris was convicted of murder in the death of his 22-month-old son Cooper. Prosecutors said he intentionally left his son inside a hot car outside of his office for hours.
In 2022, the Georgia Supreme Court overturned the murder conviction, but upheld charges for sexual crimes against a teenage girl that came to light during the trial.
Here’s a timeline of how the case unfolded:
June 18, 2014: Justin Ross Harris leaves his 22-month son Cooper in the back seat of his SUV as he goes to his job at the Home Depot corporate office on Cumberland Boulevard. Police say that Cooper, who was locked inside the car at about 9:30, probably died before noon. About 4:15 p.m., by his account, Harris drives two miles before noticing his son in the back seat. He pulls off in a shopping center parking lot and removes Cooper’s body. Witnesses at the scene call paramedics and police. At 10 p.m., Harris is arrested and charged with murder.
June 28, 2014: Cooper's funeral is held in Tuscaloosa, Ala. By phone from jail, Harris thanks supporters for standing behind him. His wife, Leanna Harris, also speaks at the service. "[Cooper's] in the most peaceful, wonderful place there is," Leanna tells mourners.
June 29, 2014: Search warrants released to the public claim that Ross Harris had recently researched hot car deaths. The defense argues that Harris clicked on a trending video on Reddit about dogs dying in hot cars.
July 3, 2014: Cobb Superior Court Judge Frank Cox rules there is probable cause to charge Harris with his son's murder and denies bail. Harris remains in jail. During the hearing, prosecutors disclose that Harris was sexting with at least six women on the day that Cooper died.
July 10, 2014: Home Depot confirms that it has terminated Justin Ross Harris. Also on this day, it's reported that Leanna Harris has retained her own legal counsel; and a toxicology report on Cooper shows negative results for drugs or other chemicals.
Aug. 8, 2014: Leanna Harris states in a crime victim report that she believes that Ross is innocent and calls him “a wonderful father.”Sept. 4, 2014: Justin Ross Harris is indicted for malice murder, two counts of felony murder, cruelty to children in the first and second degree, criminal attempt to commit a felony and dissemination of harmful materials to minors.
Sept. 24, 2014: Cobb County District Attorney Vic Reynolds announces that prosecutors will not pursue the death penalty.
Oct. 13, 2014: Harris pleads not guilty to all eight charges.
Sept. 11, 2015: Cobb County releases results from Cooper's autopsy. Hyperthermia is listed as the toddler's cause of death.
Sept. 14, 2015: A series of pretrial hearings begin to determine what evidence is admissible. Cobb County Superior Court Judge Mary Staley denies a motion to keep the pre-trial hearings closed from the public.
Sept. 15, 2015: Judge Staley decides that conversations that Harris had with Cobb County police on June 18, 2014, after he had requested an attorney are admissible. In those conversations, Cobb police describe Harris as unemotional and cordial, and well-acquainted with the charges against him.
Oct. 12, 2015: Judge Staley decides that online chats that Harris had with women are admissible. Prosecutors claim that in those chats, Harris told women that he would leave his wife if not for their son. In one of those chats, held on the morning that Cooper was last alive, Harris posted, "I love my son and all, but we both need escapes." The police say this is a motive to kill.
Dec. 14, 2015: Defense lawyers for Harris accuse the Cobb police of illegally taking his cell phone without a warrant. The defense calls the police investigation a "fishing expedition" and moves to dismiss any evidence taken from the phone. The defense also claims that when investigators sought a warrant for Harris, they portrayed Harris as unemotional, when witnesses instead claimed he was "hysterical."
Dec. 15, 2015: Cobb police testify that Harris' initial statements contradicted the evidence, which gave them probable cause to seek a warrant.
Jan. 29, 2016: Judge Staley denies the defense motions, effectively preserving key evidence collected by police against Harris before he was a suspect, during his interrogation and after his arrest.
Feb. 11, 2016: Leanna Harris files for divorce from Justin.
Feb. 22, 2016: Defense lawyers say evidence of Justin's extramarital dalliances is irrelevant and should be excluded.
March 4, 2016: Eight new charges are filed against Harris, including two counts of sexual exploitation of children and six of disseminating harmful material to a minor.
April 11, 2016:
Jury selection begins for Harris’ murder trial in Cobb County.
May 2, 2016: The judge approves a change-of-venue motion filed by Harris' lawyers to move the trial out of Cobb County. Lawyers argued that the high-profile nature of the case caused many of the potential jurors to be biased toward guilt, and Judge Mary Staley agreed.
June 16, 2016: The judge picks to move the trial to the city of Brunswick in Glynn County in order to find in impartial jury.
Sept. 12, 2016: Jury selection begins in Glynn County.
Sept. 22, 2016: Jury selection completed. In total, 45 jurors qualified for the pool. The trial begins Monday, Oct. 3.
Oct. 3, 2016: Ross Harris trial begins in Glynn County. During the 22 days of testimony, briefly interrupted as a hurricane moved through the area, lawyers called 70 witnesses to the stand.
Nov. 7, 2016: Lawyers give closing arguments and the judge charges the jury. Jurors began deliberations the next morning,
Nov. 14, 2016: Jury finds Ross Harris guilty on all counts in son's hot car death. Harris showed little to no emotion as the verdict was read. The Cobb County district attorney said the verdict is not a victory or a reason to celebrate, but justice was served. Harris lawyers said they are already beginning the paperwork for an appeal.
Dec. 5, 2016: Judge sentenced Ross Harris to life in prison plus 34 years. He will get credit for two years already served. The defense says they are completing their paperwork to file for a new trial.
June 6, 2022: The Georgia supreme court overturns Harris’ murder conviction, but upholds his conviction for sexual crimes committed against a teenage girl.
“The Supreme Court has reversed Justin Ross Harris’s convictions for murder and other crimes related to the death of his toddler son, Cooper, in a hot car, because the jury ‘heard and saw an extensive amount of improperly admitted evidence,’” according to the release.
In response, the Cobb County District Attorney’s Office said they plan to file a motion for reconsideration.
Cox Media Group