Stephen B. Morton/Atlanta Journal-Structure by way of AP, Pool, File
ATLANTA — Georgia’s highest courtroom on Wednesday overturned the homicide and little one cruelty convictions towards a person whose toddler son died after he left him in a scorching automobile for hours, saying the jury noticed proof that was “extraordinarily and unfairly prejudicial.”
Justin Ross Harris, 41, was convicted in November 2016 on eight counts together with malice homicide within the dying of his 22-month-old son, Cooper. A choose sentenced him to life with out parole in addition to 32 extra years in jail for different crimes.
The entire Georgia Supreme Courtroom justices agreed that there was adequate proof to help Harris’ convictions, however the 134-page majority opinion written by Chief Justice David Nahmias says that a lot of the proof having to do with Harris’ sexual actions should not have been admitted and should have improperly influenced the jury. The ruling implies that Harris is entitled to a brand new trial on the homicide and little one cruelty costs towards him.
“We’re very appreciative and grateful that we’ll have a brand new trial,” stated Harris’ lawyer, Mitch Durham.
The excessive courtroom upheld Harris’ convictions on three intercourse crimes dedicated towards a 16-year-old woman that Harris had not appealed. He acquired a complete of 12 years in jail for these crimes.
The Cobb County District Legal professional’s workplace plans to file a movement for reconsideration within the case, in response to an emailed assertion.
Prosecutors argued that Harris was sad in his marriage and deliberately killed his son to free himself. To help this principle, they introduced intensive proof of extramarital sexual actions that he engaged in, together with exchanging sexually express messages and graphic pictures with ladies and women and assembly a few of them for intercourse.
Protection attorneys described him as a doting father and stated the boy’s dying was a tragic accident.
The 6-3 majority opinion says that the jury “heard and noticed an in depth quantity of improperly admitted proof.” It says that as prosecutors painted Harris as a person who “deliberately and maliciously” deserted his little one to die in the summertime warmth, additionally they “introduced a considerable quantity of proof to steer the jury to reply a unique and extra legally problematic query: what sort of man is (Harris)?”
Harris, who moved from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to the Atlanta space for work in 2012, advised police he forgot to drop his son off at day care on the morning of June 18, 2014, driving straight to his job as an internet developer for Residence Depot with out remembering that Cooper was nonetheless in his automobile seat.
Cooper died after sitting for about seven hours within the again seat of the Hyundai Tucson SUV exterior his father’s workplace in suburban Atlanta, the place temperatures that day reached not less than into the excessive 80s.
Nobody disputes that Harris left his son within the SUV relatively than dropping him off at day care and that the warmth within the car brought on the boy’s dying. The one disputed problem was whether or not Harris “deliberately and maliciously left his little one to undergo that painful dying,” Nahmias wrote.
Whereas a few of the proof was acceptable to ascertain the prosecution’s principle of Harris’ motive, the trial courtroom ought to have excluded a lot of it, Nahmias wrote. Extremely prejudicial proof included proof that Harris exchanged lewd and typically unlawful messages and pictures with 4 minors, shade pictures of his genitals taken from textual content messages and blown as much as present in courtroom, and proof that he had employed a prostitute, the opinion says.
The state “convincingly demonstrated that (Harris) was a philanderer, a pervert, and even a sexual predator,” Nahmias wrote. “This proof did little if something to reply the important thing query of (Harris’s) intent when he walked away from Cooper, nevertheless it was more likely to lead the jurors to conclude that (Harris) was the form of man who would interact in different morally repulsive conduct (like leaving his little one to die painfully in a scorching automobile) and who deserved punishment, even when the jurors weren’t satisfied past an affordable doubt that he purposefully killed Cooper.”
The correctly admitted proof that Harris meant for his little one to die was “removed from overwhelming,” Nahmias wrote, including that “we can not say that it’s extremely possible that the erroneously admitted sexual proof didn’t contribute to the jury’s responsible verdicts.”
Justice Charlie Bethel wrote a partial dissent that was joined by Justice Shawn LaGrua and Justice Verda Colvin. He stated the state was “entitled to introduce, intimately, proof of the character, scope, and extent of the really sinister motive it ascribed to Harris.” For that purpose, Bethel wrote, the trial courtroom didn’t abuse its discretion in permitting the challenged proof.