Father Murders in Toddler in Hot Car!
ATLANTA — With local television programming interrupted and a camera trained on the defendant’s emotionless face, an Atlanta-area father was convicted of murder on Monday for causing the death of his young son by deliberately leaving him in a hot car more than two years ago.
A jury in southeast Georgia, where the case was tried because of intense pretrial publicity here, returned guilty verdicts against the man, Justin Ross Harris, 35, on eight counts, including malice murder and cruelty to children. Mr. Harris, who sometimes glanced downward as the verdict was read in Brunswick, could be sentenced to life in prison for the death of his 22-month-old son, Cooper.
The verdict, announced on the jury’s fourth day of deliberations, ended the suspense of a trial that began on Oct. 3, and it capped nearly 29 months of sordid allegations and scrambled loyalties. The cause of Cooper’s death was undisputed — Mr. Harris left him in a Hyundai Tucson while he worked as a software engineer at Home Depot on June 18, 2014 — but it fell to jurors to decide whether he had been malicious or merely absent-minded.
The manner of Cooper’s death is a heartbreakingly familiar one: At least 39 children in the United States have died of “vehicular heatstroke” this year, according to statistics compiled by a San Jose State University researcher. But the case against Mr. Harris was striking because of the severity of the charges and the state’s argument that he was eager to end his responsibilities to his family.
“This killer’s heart abandoned this child long before he died,” Charles P. Boring, an assistant district attorney, said during his closing argument. “This defendant’s heart abandoned this child when he left him to die a terrible death in that car.”
In a statement after the verdict, the district attorney’s office noted a message that Mr. Harris sent minutes before he left his vehicle, Cooper still in his car seat: “I love my son and all, but we both need escapes.”
But near the end of a trial in which Mr. Harris was vilified as a sex-addicted man with a compromised marriage, one of his lawyers, H. Maddox Kilgore, argued that moral failings did not make a motive for murder.
“There is no evidence of any kind of hatred or bad feelings or anger,” Mr. Kilgore said. “Whatever term you want to come up with, any term you come up with, there’s no evidence that Ross expressed that toward his son.”
In the end, Mr. Harris was convicted on all eight counts for which he was indicted. Three of the charges were not connected to Cooper’s death and instead focused on Mr. Harris’s electronic communications with at least one underage girl. He will be sentenced next month.
Although Mr. Harris’s former wife, Leanna Taylor, filed for divorce after Cooper’s death, she testified in her husband’s defense. Ms. Taylor’s lawyer, Lawrence J. Zimmerman, said she was “deeply disappointed” by the verdict.