#teensexting | #sexting | State Supreme Court Tosses Murder Conviction for Hot Car Death

Justin Harris holds his son Cooper in this undated photo prior to the child’s death in a hot car in 2014. Image: Facebook

The Georgia State Supreme Court just tossed out the murder conviction for Justin Ross who had left his 22-month-old son, Cooper, in a hot car while he was at work, resulting in the death of the toddler in June 2014.  Charged with murder, the case ended up before a long jury trial  in November 2016. After a month-long trial and four days of deliberations, the jury convicted the then 35 year old father of malice murder. He was sentenced to life without parole in jail for Cooper’s death.

The prosecution built a damning case with salacious details –and the State Supreme Court believes those salacious details shared with the jury in the 2016 trial unfairly put him in bad light, leaving him with an unfair trial.

Harris was supposed to drop off his son at daycare on the way to his job at Home Depot on June 18, 2014. Instead, he left the boy behind in his car seat, not realizing he was there for 7 hours after being in the hot Georgia heat all day. The boy was found dead.

While Harris claimed it was an accident and blamed sleep deprivation on what he called the accidental death of his son, prosecutors painted an entirely different picture  of man who wanted to get out of his marriage, have as much sex with as many women as he could, and intentionally let his son die so he could continue to his sexual exploits as a single man without kids.

The National Weather Service has embarked on a "Look before you lock" campaign to make sure you don't leave behind any children or pets when you lock your car. Image: NWS
The National Weather Service has embarked on a “Look before you lock” campaign to make sure you don’t leave behind any children or pets when you lock your car. Image: NWS

In the criminal trial, prosecutors showed that minutes before locking his son behind in the car at his job, he wrote online, “I love my son and all, but we both need escapes.” Five days before, Harris watched a video online of a veterinarian sitting in a hot car to see how the conditions become unlivable in a short period.

While his son was stuck in the hot car, Harris was sexting women while at work. Harris had previously sent sexual messages to a teen girl asking for nude photographs of her pubic area;  he also replied by sharing photos of his genitals. On the day Cooper died, he asked her to send him photographs of her breasts. Beyond that teen, as revealed in the trial, Harris was also carrying assorted sexual relationships with other women, including a prostitute. Texts with other women made by Harris from the day Cooper died were also shared with the jury.

However, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled the information should have been excluded because it was “needlessly cumulative and prejudicial.” In the 134-page majority opinion written by Chief Justice David Nahmias, he writes that much of the evidence having to do with Harris’ sexual activities shouldn’t have been admitted and may have improperly influenced the jury. The ruling means that Harris is entitled to a new trial on the murder and child cruelty charges against him.

Through the course of this case, Harris was also found guilty of sex crimes committed against a 16 year old girl. With those crimes, he was sentenced to a total of 12 years in prison. The ruling by the Supreme Court doesn’t impact that crime nor penalty; Harris also did not appeal those charges.

The Office of Cobb County District Attorney Flynn Broady Jr. released a statement that simply read, “our office plans to file a motion for reconsideration in this case.”

The 2014 hot car death case brought a lot of attention to the fact that far too many children die from being left unattended in hot cars.

According to NoHeatstroke.Org, the majority of hot car deaths, amounting to 54% of them, happen because someone forgets a child in a car.  About 46% of the time a child was forgotten, the caregiver had planned to drop the child off at a care facility such as a daycare or preschool. Almost 75% of all children who are forgotten and die are under 2 years old.

Heatstroke occurs when a person’s temperature exceeds 104 degrees F. At that point, the ability for a human to regulate their temperature and bodily functions fails. At first, symptoms of heatstroke include dizziness, disorientation, confusion, sluggishness, loss of consciousness, and rapid heartbeat. Once the body temperature climbs to 107 degrees or greater, internal organs begin to shut down and human cells are damaged. It is at this point death can quickly occur. This is especially true in children; small bodies can’t regulate body temperatures as efficiently as an adult’s; as such, a child’s body can warm 2-3 times faster than that of an adult.

People should know the difference between Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke. Image: National Weather Service
People should know the difference between Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke. Image: National Weather Service

Automobiles can become deadly ovens in the summer. When the outside temperature is only 70, the temperature inside a vehicle can climb to 113 degrees in an hour. On a 95 degree day, temperatures inside a vehicle can warm to 138 degrees in an hour.

Authorities warn drivers to never  leave a child in an unattended car, even with the windows down. Drivers should make it a habit to open the rear door of the car every time they park to ensure no one is left inside. Children have also been known to sneak into cars on their own, becoming trapped and dying as a result. To prevent that, authorities recommend that people keep their vehicle locked at all times, even when it is inside a garage. Authorities also recommend that keys never be left within reach of children. If a child is ever missing, people should immediately check the inside, floorboards, and trunk of all vehicles in the area.

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