Dad in hot-car death case indicted on murder, child cruelty charges
Justin Ross Harris, a Georgia man accused of intentionally leaving his toddler in a hot car for seven hours in June and sexting with multiple women as the boy died, was indicted Thursday on eight charges, including murder and child cruelty.
Harris faces five charges directly related to 22-month-old Cooper’s death: one count of malice murder, two of felony murder and two of cruelty to children.
He also faces three charges related to providing sexual pictures and descriptions to a girl younger than 18 and requesting photos of her genitals, according to the indictment by a Cobb County grand jury: two counts of disseminating harmful material to minors and one count of attempting to sexually exploit children.
Police have said Harris left his son, Cooper, in an SUV in the parking lot at his workplace of Home Depot at 9:25 a.m. June 18, a day where the temperature reached the upper 80s.
Harris left work at 4:15 p.m. -- apparently to go watch “22 Jump Street” with friends -- and, while driving to the theater, brought his car to a screeching halt near a strip mall and pulled his son’s body out of the car, apparently in distress after discovering what he’d done.
But during a court hearing in July, police said that wasn’t the first time Harris had gone back to his car since he arrived at work. Police said surveillance video showed that after he got a ride to lunch with some friends, Harris went back around midday to put light bulbs inside the car, where his son was strapped into a rear-facing car seat.
Officials said he’d also watched videos on Reddit of people getting killed and had searched online for Georgia laws on the age of consent and for “how to survive prison.”
While in jail, Harris told family members how to collect on $27,000 in life insurance on the boy, according to search warrants.
Harris told police that the death was a tragic accident and that he forgot the child was in the car.
According to officials, Harris and his wife both said they researched hot-car deaths before their son died. Harris “stated that he was fearful that this could happen,” an affidavit states.
Thursday’s indictment alleges that Harris caused Cooper’s death “with malice aforethought” and that he caused the boy “cruel and excessive physical pain” by leaving him strapped into the hot car.
Cobb County Dist. Atty. Vic Reynolds said Thursday afternoon that prosecutors have not yet decided whether they will seek the death penalty in this case.
Dozens of children in the U.S. die each year after being stuck in hot cars. There have been more than 25 such heatstroke deaths this year, according to KidsAndCars.org, which tracks such deaths.
Separately on Thursday, a man whose baby died Wednesday after being locked in his hot car at a Navy base in Maryland was accused of involuntary manslaughter.
Times staff writer Matt Pearce contributed to this report.
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