A judge has agreed to move the trial of Justin Ross Harris, the man accused of murdering his 22-month-old son by allegedly intentionally leaving him in a hot car, on the grounds that the pretrial publicity has made it impossible to find an impartial jury.
Jury selection began three weeks ago, when 550 potential jurors arrived at the Cobb County Courthouse in Marietta, Georgia. In 15 days, the prosecution and defense qualified approximately 40 panelists for potential service on the jury.
But on Monday, that work was undone when judge Mary Staley ruled that the high-profile trial would be moved to a new location in Georgia.
Now, the prosecution and defense will have to agree upon a new venue for the trial.
The ruling was a victory for defense attorney Maddox Kilgore, who has argued that his client would not get a fair trial in the Atlanta area.
In a statement, Cobb County District Attorney Vic Reynolds reacted to the ruling: “While we re certainly disappointed, we understand and respect the court’s ruling. Whenever and wherever this case is set for trial, the state will be ready.”
On the June 14, 2014 day Harris allegedly left his son, Cooper, in the family’s SUV to go to his web developer job at Home Depot, the outside temperatures were nearly 90 degrees. An autopsy found that Cooper died of hyperthermia.
In a pretrial hearing, a detective told the court that Harris had exchanged sexual text messages with six different females while his son was dying in the car. One of the females he allegedly sexted was just 16 years old. (Harris tried to have the alleged racy text messages declared inadmissible at trial.)
In a 2014 probable cause hearing, detective Phil Stoddard outlined Harris’s alleged strange behavior, both before and after Cooper’s death.
According to Stoddard, Harris had researched hot car deaths online. He also searched “how to survive in prison.”
Surveillance video had shown Harris returning to the car during lunchtime and placing two boxes of light bulbs inside. He didn’t look at Cooper’s car seat.
Stoddard also testified that Harris grew belligerent with responding officers after discovering Cooper’s lifeless body. When he was arrested, Harris allegedly said, “But there was no malicious intent.”
Harris grew belligerent with responding officers after discovering Cooper’s lifeless body. When he was arrested, Harris allegedly said, “But there was no malicious intent.”
Kilgore contends that Harris merely forgot about Cooper because he was distracted and that he never intended to harm his son.
Prosecutors charged Harris with eight felony counts, including malice murder, cruelty to children and criminal attempt to commit a felony. He faces life in prison if he’s found guilty.