Justin Ross Harris was convicted in 2016 for the murder of his 22-month-old son Cooper after prosecutors claimed he planned the death to give him freedom to explore his sexual fantasies with prostitutes.
Cooper passed away on June 18, 2014, after spending approximately seven hours alone in a car seat, with Harris claiming that he had forgotten to drop his son off at daycare.
And now – eight years after the 22-month-old boy passed away in Atlanta, Georgia – the state’s Supreme Court overturned Harris’ murder conviction.
The case was overturned this week because an abundance of the sexually related evidence heard by the jury was “needlessly cumulative and prejudicial,” according to the court ruling obtained by ABC News.
Prosecutors accused the 35-year-old web developer of deliberately locking the tot in the vehicle to “escape” from fatherhood, allowing him to focus on pursuing his sexual fantasies.
But Harris’ attorneys argued the death of the boy was a tragic accident after the father took his son for breakfast at Chick-fil-A.
They claim he forgot to drop his son at daycare and drove to work forgetting Cooper was inside.
Harris’ trial showed “extensive evidence” of the dad’s extramarital sexual relationships, “which included sending graphic sexual messages and pictures to multiple women, including minors, and hiring a prostitute,” the Supreme Court of Georgia ruled.
Chief Justice David Nahmias said: “The State convincingly demonstrated that Appellant [Harris] was a philanderer, pervert, and even a sexual predator.
“This evidence did little if anything to answer the key question of Appellant’s intent when he walked away from Cooper, but it was likely to lead the jurors to conclude that Appellant was the kind of man who would engage in other morally repulsive conduct (like leaving his child to die painfully in a hot car) and who deserved punishment, even if the jurors were not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that he purposefully killed Cooper.”
Harris’ request to put an end to the sex crimes charged he was hit with was denied and his sexual crimes against a minor conviction were not challenged, the news outlet explains.
Due to the evidence that Harris “maliciously and intentionally left Cooper to die was far from overwhelming,” Nahmias explained: “We cannot say that it is highly probable that the erroneously admitted sexual evidence did not contribute to the jury’s guilty verdicts.”
He added: “We therefore reverse Appellant’s convictions on the counts charging crimes against Cooper.”
Following the court’s decision to overturn Harris’ conviction, Cobb County prosecutors said they are planning to file a motion to get the case reconsidered.
Harris broke down in tears
Back in 2016, when a medical examiner described Harris’ son’s death as “prolonged” and “agonizing,” the dad was seen breaking down in tears.
He was on trial and accused of murdering the one-year-old outside his workplace.
He wept as jurors were shown 34 autopsy photographs of his son’s body.
“I believe he went through various stages as he was passing,” former Cobb County Medical Examiner Brian Frist said.
“He would’ve experienced nausea, a headache, dehydration, seizures, anxiety…”
Jurors previously heard that Harris sent more than 30 messages which were “mostly to women, mostly about sex” on the day his son Cooper died.
It emerged he was texting a 17-year-old girl asking for images of her genitals.
Prosecutors alleged Harris was unhappily married, and wanted sex with other women and his son was an obstacle to this lifestyle.
Paramedic Peyton Barwick told the court he saw no emotion from Harris while questioning the dad as he sat in the rear of a patrol car.
The father seemed “very dry and emotionless” while being questioned about his son, Barwick said, adding: “He told me he ate breakfast about 8:45 and arrived at work at 9. He rolled up the windows and locked the car,’ before walking into his office,'”
The paramedic added: “Harris asked, ‘Is he dead?’ I said, ‘Yes sir, he is deceased’.
“There were no tears.”
Temperatures inside the car were estimated to have reached 120 degrees (49C), according to medical examiners.