COBB COUNTY, Ga. — A Cobb County father who intentionally left his son to die in a hot SUV will spend the rest of his life in prison.
A judge sentenced Ross Harris, 36, to life without parole plus 34 years, but he will get credit for the two years he has already served.
Last month, a jury convicted Harris on eight counts: malice murder, two counts of felony murder, cruelty to children in the first degree, cruelty to children in the second degree, criminal attempt to commit a felony, to wit; sexual exploitation of children and two counts of dissemination of harmful material to minors.
- Count 1 - Life without parole
- Count 4 - 20 years to serve
- Count 6 - 10 years to serve
- Count 7- 12 months to serve
- Count 8 - 12 months to serve
Harris left his 22-month-old son, Cooper, inside his car for nearly seven hours outside his Cobb County office building in June 2014. The toddler died of hyperthermia.
“(This was) a horrendous, horrific experience for this 22-month-old child who had been placed in the trust of his father and in violation and dereliction of duty to that child, if not love of that child, callously walked away and left that child in a hot car in June in Georgia in the summer to swelter and die," Judge Mary Staley said in court Monday.
Police were suspicious from the start and took Harris into custody in the strip mall parking lot where he had pulled over and removed his son's lifeless body from the SUV. Harris' defense attorneys argued that he was a loving father and that while he was responsible for the boy's death, it was a tragic accident.
"I went back and reviewed your statements to police and your statements to your wife when you were taken into custody. And it stood out to me that both of those you took the occasion to express your wish that you would be an advocate so that people would never do this again to their children. And I would say, perhaps not in the way that you intended, that you have in fact accomplished that goal," Staley told Harris after reading the sentence.
Harris' defense team vowed after the trial to appeal the verdict and to seek a new trial.
Cooper died after sitting for about seven hours in the back seat of his father's vehicle outside the office where Harris worked in suburban Atlanta on a day when temperatures reached at least into the high 80s.
Harris said he forgot to drop his son off at day care that morning, driving straight to his job as a web developer for Home Depot, not remembering that Cooper was still in his car seat.
Investigators found evidence that Harris was engaging in online flirting and in-person affairs with numerous women other than his wife, including a prostitute and an underage teenager. They concluded that Harris intentionally killed his son to escape the responsibilities of family life.
Harris' case received an enormous amount of media attention from the very beginning.
After determining during nearly three weeks of jury selection in April that pretrial publicity had made it too difficult to find a fair jury in Cobb County, where the boy died, Superior Court Judge Mary Staley granted a defense request to relocate the trial.
A jury in Glynn County, located on the Georgia coast about 60 miles south of Savannah, spent about a month listening to evidence in the case and deliberated for four days before finding him guilty last month of all eight counts against him. In addition to malice murder and felony murder charges, Harris also was found guilty of sending sexual text messages to a teenage girl and sending her nude photos.
Jury selection began in Glynn County in September and a jury was seated in less than two weeks. The trial began on Oct. 3.
After 22 days of testimony and 70 witnesses, 52 for the state and 18 for the defense, the jury began its deliberations.
DAILY SUMMARY STORIES:
- EXCLUSIVE: Lead prosecutor talks jury, sentencing in Ross Harris trial
- Lawyers give closing arguments in Ross Harris hot car death trial
- Defense rests its case in Ross Harris hot car death trial
- Prosecution rests its case in Ross Harris hot car death trial
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LIFE WITHOUT THE POSSIBILITY OF PAROLE
Jurors found Harris guilty of malice murder, which means they believed not only that he should be held criminally responsible for his son's death, but that he left the young boy die on purpose. Malice murder carries a sentence of life in prison. The state recommended Harris not be given the opportunity for parole and the judge agreed.
In 2014, the state announced it would not seek the death penalty against Harris.
“After reviewing Georgia’s death penalty statute and considering other factors, the State will not seek the death penalty in this case at this time. I cannot and will not elaborate at this juncture of the case," Cobb District Attorney Vic Reynolds said in a statement.
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