The Georgia Supreme Court reversed two convictions Wednesday against Justin Ross Harris, a Cobb County man serving a life sentence for killing his toddler son, Cooper, after leaving him inside a hot SUV for hours.
According to Fox 5, Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice David E. Nahmias reversed Harris’ convictions of malice murder and first-degree child cruelty, following a hearing earlier this year where defense lawyers laid out reasons why they deemed the convictions unfair.
Defense lawyers argued that “errors related to its evidentiary decisions” were made during Harris’ 2016 trial when he was found guilty of murdering his 22-month-old son after the tot was left strapped in his car seat in the Vinings Home Depot headquarters parking lot.
According to the case overview, Harris’ lawyers argued that only three defense witnesses were called to the stand during his trial, which included two detectives and a computer expert. Further, they argued that the convictions of child cruelty and murder were baseless, without sufficient evidence.
The state contended that the evidence submitted was credible and enough to land Harris in prison.
Harris didn’t contest his convictions on sexual exploitation of a child, which happened after he sent sexually-charged messages to a teen girl via a dating site in 2016. The judge, however, said that the sexual exploitation charge may have possibly played into Harris’ murder conviction.
“Because the properly admitted evidence that Appellant maliciously and intentionally left Cooper to die was far from overwhelming, we cannot say that it is highly probable that the erroneously admitted sexual evidence did not contribute to the jury’s guilty verdicts,” the justice wrote.
The state of Georgia can still try Harris again for the reversed convictions. Harris will stay in prison in connection with the other charges.
As CrimeOnline previously reported, Harris, who worked at the Vinings Home Depot headquarters as a web designer, left Cooper inside a hot SUV in the parking lot of the headquarters office on June 18, 2014, and walked into work.
Later that afternoon, Harris pulled his SUV over into the Akers Mill Square shopping center on Cobb Parkway and began screaming as he pulled Cooper from the vehicle.
According to witnesses, Harris attempted CPR on the toddler, although it was apparent Cooper was already deceased. A bystander also attempted CPR but later testified he could tell Cooper was dead.
“Justin was witnessed yelling, ‘Oh my god what have I done,’” the warrant read. “He then began doing CPR on the child. EMS responded to the scene. It was obvious that the child was deceased.”
According to Harris, he forgot to drop his son off at daycare and didn’t notice the boy was still inside the vehicle until he drove away from work at around 4:15 p.m. Harris insisted it was a terrible accident, but prosecutors during his 2016 trial successfully convinced a jury otherwise.
Experts testified that the boy was likely dead by noon, given that the temperatures inside the car had reached around 98 degrees. Prosecutors said the car had a strong smell of “death” inside, which would have been impossible for Harris not to immediately notice. Yet, he drove through seven traffic lights before he pulled his car into the shopping center.
Other experts argued that the smell of death would have taken much longer to come about.
Harris also returned to his SUV after his lunch break and dropped a bag of light bulbs on the front passenger seat. He claimed he didn’t notice that Cooper was there.
Prosecutors said Harris wanted to be free of responsibility and planned in advance how he would kill his son.
During the trial, jurors listened intently to testimony from eight women who had contact with Harris. Some had sex with Harris, who was married at the time, while others testified that they exchanged sexually explicit texts and naked photos with him.
In 2016, a jury convicted Harris and he was sentenced to life in prison.
Harris said “prejudicial testimony” made it an “absolute impossibility” for him to receive a fair trial. Harris’ defense team argued that showing evidence of affairs and sexual addiction tainted the jury’s view of Harris and had nothing to do with Cooper’s death.
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[Feature Photo: Handout/Justin and Cooper]