A Georgia father accused of leaving his toddler strapped in a hot car for hours has been indicted on eight counts, including malice murder, felony murder and cruelty to children in the first and second degree, according to a grand jury indictment obtained Thursday by HLN.
“This definitely is as serious as it could possibly get,” explained Philip Holloway, a criminal defense attorney who practices in the same county where Justin Ross Harris is facing charges. “This implies premeditation, deliberation. An abandoned and malignant heart is what Georgia code calls ‘malice.'”
The 33-year-old father, who was denied bail and is currently behind bars, says he forgot to drop his son, Cooper, off at day care on the morning of June 18. A medical examiner determined that the 22-month-old boy died of hyperthermia.
“Ross is a very broken guy,” Harris’ attorney, Maddox Kilgore, told the media Thursday afternoon. “In the last couple of months, we’ve had two warrants, a lengthy probable cause hearing and now an indictment that includes three counts of murder. But we still don’t know what the state’s theory is.”
He went on to say: “Truth doesn’t change with the evidence. And the truth is, Cooper’s death was a horrible, gut-wrenching accident. It was always an accident. And when the time comes and we work through the state’s maze of theories at trial, it’s still going to be a terrible, gut-wrenching accident.”
Prosecutors say Harris would have had ample opportunity to see that his son was still in the car, especially since his head would have been visible over the car seat, according to tests conducted by investigators.
Police also said Harris searched the Internet for information about how long it would take for a child to die in a hot car in addition to visiting subreddits about “people who die” and people who live child-free lives.
The grand jury additionally found there was sufficient evidence to charge Harris with criminal attempt to commit a felony and dissemination of harmful material to minors. Those charges relate to accusations that Harris sexted lewd photographs of himself to a girl under the age of 18. Prosecutors have accused Harris of sexting several women while his son was trapped inside the hot car, dying.
Holloway explained why these charges are probably being included along with the murder charges:
“It appears that they [prosecutors] want to present the entire picture of this plan — the scheme — of what happened to this child and everything that lead up to it, to show motive,” he said.
Harris also already pleaded not guilty to the charges he originally faced, which are second-degree cruelty to a child and felony murder.
Cobb County District Attorney Vic Reynolds made a brief statement to the media Thursday afternoon and said the state would make a decision about whether or not to pursue the death penalty before Harris’ arraignment, which he expects to take place within the next three weeks.
“We are pleased with the pace and thoroughness of this investigation, which continues on today. The evidence in this case had led us to this point today. Whether or not it leads us to anyone else remains to be answered,” Reynolds said. “We look forward to the case running its course and ultimately justice being served in this matter.”