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Father Receives Life Sentence for Toddler’s Hot Car Death

Father Receives Life Sentence for Toddler’s Hot Car Death

No possibility for parole.

In the summer of 2014, Justin Ross Harris left his 22-month-old son Cooper in the car for seven hours as he went to work. Harris claimed he forgot to drop Cooper off at daycare, but prosecutors revealed he sexted with numerous women, including the day his son died. A grand jury indicted Harris in September 2014.

On Tuesday, Cobb County Superior Court Judge Mary Staley Clark sentenced Harris to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

CNN reported:

Harris also received another 32 years, to be served consecutively, for convictions on four other counts.

Harris, 36, who appeared in an orange jumpsuit with his wrists shackled at his waist, cast his head slightly downward as the sentence was handed down. He briefly closed his eyes but offered little other reaction.

In addition to the life term, Cobb County Superior Court Judge Mary Staley Clark gave Harris a 20-year sentence on a conviction for first-degree cruelty to children and another 10 years for sexual exploitation of children. Those charges stemmed from a finding that Harris tried to convince a minor to text him photos of her genitalia.

Harris also received a year each on two misdemeanor counts of dissemination of harmful material to minors, also related to his texts.

Judge Clark said:

“What factually 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,” she said.

She continued:

“Except for the fact that the defendant has no prior criminal record, there is no mitigating fact or circumstance in this case,” Clark said, before announcing the sentence. “This court finds particularly that the defendant intentionally and unnecessarily in a wanton manner, caused and inflicted upon Cooper Harris unnecessary and wanton severe physical and mental pain and agony.”

As she spoke, Clark appeared at times to try to restrain her emotions. She told Harris what he had done was “a violation and dereliction of duty to that child if not love of that child” as he “callously walked away” from his son in the car two years ago.

“The state’s recommendation is the very least that anyone could deem just under the cirumcstances of this case,” Clark said.

She called Harris up to the front of the courtroom just before announcing the sentence.

“My final observation is this, Mr. Harris,” Clark said. “I went back and reviewed and thought about your statement to the police and your statement to your wife when you were taken into custody. It stood out to me that in both of those you [stated you] wished you would be an advocate so that people would never do this again to your children. And I would say, perhaps not in the way that you intended, that you in fact have accomplished that goal.”

The jurors found Harris guilty last month. The prosecution said “that Harris was ‘driven by his own selfishness’ and that Cooper died in the most tortuous, horrific, unimaginable way possible.'” I could explain everything, but I’ll link you to The Washington Post that describes how Cooper died. The absolute worst.

The defense insists Harris had a lapse of judgement and forgot about his child. He put Cooper in the car, intending to bring him to daycare, but drove to Chik-Fil-A for breakfast before heading to Home Depot’s corporate offices for work. Harris claims that he deviated from his normal morning routine, which caused him to forget about Cooper. The prosecution pointed out that “the Chick-fil-A was less than a mile away from the Home Depot.”

But the prosecution provided evidence that Harris routinely sexted with other women, even underage girls. Records show that he exchange lewd texts on the day Cooper died. Investigators even discovered that Harris “had watched a viral video online in which a veterinarian demonstrates to pet owners the effects of being left in a hot car” only five days before the murder.

Harris’s lawyers said “they intend to file a motion for a new trial.”


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smalltownoklahoman | December 6, 2016 at 10:11 am

Justice served, may he rot in a cell for the rest of his days!

May God bless the soul of that poor child.

The inconvenience of having to spend his life in prison doesn’t seem to square with what he did to his own son. I hope prison is a hell on earth for him. A place so bad that death would be a blessed reprieve.

    thalesofmiletus in reply to Old0311. | December 6, 2016 at 11:20 am

    “I hope prison is a hell on earth for him.”

    Prison or not, the guy’s already in hell — he has a dead child. That hell will never end while he lives, so death might actually be easier than living.

      Gremlin1974 in reply to thalesofmiletus. | December 6, 2016 at 12:06 pm

      I think it is a radical assumption that the POS who willfully killed his son in such a horrific manner gives a tinkers damn about loosing that child.

It’s a difficult case, because it’s well-documented that parents do genuinely forget their children in the back seat, especially if there’s a deviation from their normal routine. Every year there are a few cases, and the parents are really innocent, but it can be hard for jurors to believe that this can happen. The incidence has jumped since laws started to require car seats to be put in the back rather than the front, because the mandatory airbag in the front could crush a small child.

In this case it seems that the father knew about this phenomenon and therefore may have exploited it by planning a murder to look like such a case. But without being on the jury I can’t say whether the state proved this beyond reasonable doubt. I suppose the jury deserves to be trusted, unless and until evidence to the contrary emerges.

    liberalinsight in reply to Milhouse. | December 6, 2016 at 10:54 am

    IF you mess up, and are human, for sure you do not communicate with people you do not know in a sexually suggestive way, the penalty is life in jail.

    Gremlin1974 in reply to Milhouse. | December 6, 2016 at 12:07 pm

    I would agree with you if he hadn’t looked up the video of how to do it a week earlier.

      Milhouse in reply to Gremlin1974. | December 6, 2016 at 1:44 pm

      That’s evidence that he planned this to look like a genuine case, but it’s not enough to prove it beyond reasonable doubt. It seems the jury was convinced beyond reasonable doubt, not just by this one item but by all the evidence, and I can only assume they were right, but it’s not a certainty.

      There’s always a danger in these cases that a jury refuses to believe that it’s really possible for a parent to forget their child in the car, but it’s well-documented that it’s not only possible but that it happens regularly.

        Gremlin1974 in reply to Milhouse. | December 6, 2016 at 2:12 pm

        The video would be more than enough to move me past a reasonable doubt. Lets be honest with all the sexting and what not the guy is a slimeball, which was certainly not in his favor, I think the video just knocked him over the top.

      Observer in reply to Gremlin1974. | December 6, 2016 at 5:22 pm

      I thought the most damning evidence (at least of what was reported in the media) was the fact that Harris got into the car after work, and then drove a few miles away from his workplace before stopping and “discovering” the child’s body in the car.

      The first responders reported that there was a strong odor coming from the car — and that was after the car had been sitting in the parking lot for several minutes, with the doors open, after the child’s body had been removed and a bypasser tried to revive him on the pavement. One can only imagine how much worse the odor must have been when Harris first opened the door to get into the closed-up car after leaving work. The natural response of anybody hit in the face with such a strong odor would have been to look around inside the car to see what was causing it. But Harris wasn’t curious and didn’t bother to look, and the only plausible explanation for that is that he knew exactly what it was. I suspect that he didn’t want his co-workers to witness his “discovery” of the child’s body, and that’s why he drove to the parking lot a few miles away.

I didn’t follow the trial so I don’t know if the conviction was correct. If it was outright murder, as the jury said it was, life in prison and execution are the two logical sentences — and I’d’ve preferred the death penalty.

I didn’t follow in detail. Was any plausible theory offered for why he stopped off at his car mid-day? I would have thought that in a planned operation he would have left his son in the car in the morning, then stayed away until time to go home, thus leaving him unattended for the maximum possible time. Visiting the car would just risk screwing things up. So, if he did indeed visit the car, that implies that there was no criminal plan involved, and the guy’s just a screwup.

    healthguyfsu in reply to tom swift. | December 6, 2016 at 11:29 am

    twisted curiosity? change of heart? testing whether or not he was dead?

    None really paint him as a redeemable human being IMO.

This would not happen to a mom, if convicted and sentenced at all.

Poor bastard, men must live to a higher standard. Judge was a woman even.

Why can’t rapist get that kind of sentencing? Mean while murders who use guns get off in a year or less.

“it’s well-documented that parents do genuinely forget their children in the back seat”

It’s pretty much impossible to forget a child if the kid is in the front seat. Thanks to modern safety “advances” you put your child in mortal peril when you do what was natural and normal when I was growing up. It’s probably illegal in most states, now, too, and for the same reason. If the airbags deploy it can kill a child and even a small adult.

I don’t see why we don’t have the technology to turn the passenger seat airbags on and off. People forget all sorts of things, especially when they’re distracted with thoughts of the coming work day. Have you ever seen someone driving around with their coffee cup or a package sitting on the roof of their car? I have.

If they can put their child in the front seat they won’t forget the kid is in the car. And people like this monster will have no excuse. But let’s not ignore the fact that if Harris was so dead set on killing his own child he’d simply have found another way to do the deed and try to make it look like an accident.

This is next comment is offered tongue in cheek, but feel free to flame away if you like. I read about cases like this and I gain a sort of respect for “deadbeat dads.” LIke Harris they decided they needed to get out from under their family responsibilities. Unlike Harris, they simply ran out on their families. They didn’t kill them.

    Years ago a new young loving mother I knew accidentally locked her keys in her car with her properly secured baby girl in the back seat, on a hot southern California day on black top. While in severe distress she waved down man in another car who broke out his tiring changing equipment and smashed a window, which led to a happy and safe conclusion.

Here’s the main thing that tells me the father is a liar:

Even if one believes he didn’t see his son in the seat when he came back to his car the first time, and I do not believe it, there’s one thing he can’t explain… This hard to write but it’s the truth. When he returned to his car at the end of his work day it was to a vehicle containing an hours long dead baby boy broiled in the sun and sitting in his own filth. The smell that wafted out when he opened the car door must have been enough to choke any person nearby.
But no, he gets in and drives for several miles. Then he notices?
Which tells me he’s lying about everything else, too.