COBB COUNTY, Ga. - Jury selection has begun in the murder trial of Justin Ross Harris -- the Cobb County father accused of killing his toddler son by leaving him inside a hot car.
Court officials have summoned between 300 and 350 people to form a giant jury pool that, they hope, will yield 12 impartial jurors and some alternates to hear one of the biggest trials in recent Cobb County history.
Ross Harris is charged with murder for locking his 22-month-old son, Cooper, all day in the back of a sweltering SUV in June 2014. Police and prosecutors believe that Harris killed his son deliberately; he says it was an accident.
Prosecutors have put Harris' ex-wife, Leanna Taylor, on their witness list and plan on subpoenaing her for the trial.
[READ: Channel 2 obtains evidence list in Ross Harris case]
Interest in the Harris case has been intense during the nearly two years between Cooper’s death and his father’s trial. First, it was the shock of the little boy’s death. Then there were reports that Harris had visited websites for parents who wanted to live a “child-free” life.
Police said Harris also sent sexually explicit text messages to six women, including an underage girl, even as his son was dying in the car.
[PHOTOS: Dad accused in son's hot car death appears in court]
Harris has insisted that he loved his son and that he simply forgot the child was in the Hyundai.
The father and son had gone to breakfast at a Chick-fil-A less than a mile from Harris’ web-development job at the Home Depot headquarters.
Instead of taking Cooper to his nearby daycare, Harris drove to the parking lot at Home Depot, parked the SUV with Cooper still inside, and went in to work.
He claims to have discovered his son’s body nearly seven hours later, after he left work to drive to a movie.
Attorneys say the jurors on the Harris case can expect to spend as long as eight weeks in the courtroom, a potential hardship for many working people and parents.
Day 1 of Jury selection
The first day of Jury selection lasted just over an hour Monday.
The judge and lawyers dealt with 11 jurors who wanted to get out of their service.
Many told the court they had weekend trips or classes; others had business worries that received little sympathy from the judge.
Two of the 11 were excused, including one man who told the judge he and his wife were about to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary.
"We're planning on going to Paris. We booked the trip in November of last year and we have considerable amount of money invested in this 14 day trip,” the man told the judge.
Both the judge and the lawyers agreed to let him go.
Monday was just a small taste of what appears to be a lengthy process ahead to select a 12-member jury plus several alternates out of the large pool summoned to the courthouse.
Defense Attorney Esther Panitch is not involved in this case, but says Judge Mary Staley has a reputation of keeping things moving.
“There is no playing around in front of Judge Staley. Lawyers get nervous walking into her courtroom, and she has the chops to do it. She knows how to run her courtroom,” Panitch said.
Ross Harris was in the courtroom Monday, and was all smiles for his defense team, according to our reporters.
Jury selection will continue Tuesday morning.
Other high-profile cases in Georgia
Three hundred fifty sounds like a lot of potential jurors -- and it is -- but larger pools have been assembled in Georgia for sensational cases. In 2008, for example, Fulton County court officials sent out an unprecedented 3,500 summonses in the hope of finding 12 jurors and six alternates to hear the courthouse shooting murder trial of Brian Nichols.
Six hundred prospective jurors were summoned for the months-long racketeering trial of 12 former Atlanta Public Schools administrators and teachers. It took six weeks to find 12 jurors and 11 alternates to hear the test-cheating case.
Information from the Atlanta Journal Constitution was used in this report.
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