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Georgia dad freed after hot car seat death of son put him in prison for murder

A father from Georgia who had a murder conviction overturned in the hot car death of his toddler son has been released from prison.

A father in Georgia who had a murder conviction overturned in the hot car death of his toddler son has been released from prison – nearly 10 years after he left the 22-month-old strapped in his car while he worked. 

Justin Ross Harris was freed on Sunday — Father’s Day — from the Macon State Prison, Georgia Department of Corrections records show.

Harris was found guilty in November 2016 on eight counts, including malice murder, after he left his 22-month-old son Cooper sitting for about seven hours in the back seat of his car while he worked at his office in suburban Atlanta.


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The case made global headlines since parents are rarely charged with murder in such cases, the majority of which are considered tragic accidents by forgetful parents or a breakdown in communication between them.

Harris, who moved from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to the Atlanta area for work in 2012, told police he forgot to drop his son off at daycare on the morning of June 18, 2014, driving straight to his job as a web developer for Home Depot without remembering that Cooper was still in his car seat. Temperatures that day reached at least into the high 80s, and Cooper ultimately died from the overpowering heat. 

A judge sentenced Harris to life without parole, as well as 32 more years in prison for other crimes. He began serving his sentence on Dec. 6, 2016.

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However, the Georgia Supreme Court voted 6-3 to overturn his murder and child cruelty convictions in June 2022, saying the jury saw evidence that was “extremely and unfairly prejudicial.”

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For instance, prosecutors presented evidence of Harris’ extramarital sexual activities – including exchanging sexually explicit messages and graphic photos with women and girls and meeting some of them for sex – in an effort to paint Harris as being miserable in his marriage and that he wanted to kill his son so he could be free. 

The state argued that the evidence of Harris’ sexual conduct outside his marriage was relevant because it illustrated his motive for killing his son. Defense attorneys described him as a doting father and said the boy’s death was a tragic accident.

The defense argued in an appeal that the judge overseeing the 2016 trial should never have allowed evidence of Harris’ extramarital communications and in-person trysts presented at trial because his sexual misconduct had nothing to do with the death of his son and was prejudicial.

The defense attorney also argued the trial judge made mistakes in requiring the defense to disclose the notes of a defense expert, allowing the introduction of a 3D animated video and limiting the cross-examination of certain witnesses.

Though it dismissed the murder conviction, the state Supreme Court upheld Harris’ convictions on three sex crimes committed against a 16-year-old girl that Harris had not appealed. He continued serving time for those crimes until Sunday, when he was released from prison.

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After determining that pretrial publicity had made it too hard to find a fair jury in Cobb County in suburban Atlanta, the presiding judge agreed to relocate the trial to Brunswick on the Georgia coast.

Cooper’s mother, Leanna Taylor, maintained that Harris did not intentionally kill their child that day and testified in his defense, according to Fox 5 Atlanta

During the cross-examination, Taylor said, Harris “destroyed” her life. 

“I am humiliated. I may never trust anyone again. If I never see him again after today, it is fine with me,” she said, per Fox 5.

She filed for divorce in 2016.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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