BRUNSWICK, Ga. — The trial of the Cobb County father accused of leaving his 22-month-old to die in a hot car began Monday, more than two years after the child died, according to a report from WXIA.
Justin Ross Harris, 35, faces numerous charges, including malice murder, felony murder and cruelty to children, in the death of his young son, Cooper. The 22-month-old was found in the backseat of Harris’ SUV in June 2014.
Harris claimed that the child's death was a tragic accident, but prosecutors told jurors Harris was a man seeking to escape the responsibilities of family life so he could focus on sexual liaisons with prostitutes and young women — even teenagers — he met online.
The case captured national attention two years ago after authorities revealed the father had been sending lewd messages to a woman as his son sweltered for seven hours in a parking lot outside Harris’ metro Atlanta workplace.
Prosecutor Chuck Boring told the jury in his opening statement Monday that Harris sent an online message minutes before locking his door with his son still strapped in his car seat.
Boring said the message read: “I love my son and all, but we both need escapes.”
“Hold this man responsible for trying to escape from one life into another by killing a child in one of the most horrible, unimaginable ways possible,” Boring told the jury.
Harris’ defense lawyers won’t deliver their own opening statement until Tuesday morning. Superior Court Judge Mary Staley Clark recessed court Monday evening after a 90-minute delay. She did not say what caused it.
Harris’ attorneys have previously called the boy’s death a tragic accident. Harris told police he watched cartoons with his son that morning, took him to breakfast at a Chick-fil-A restaurant and kissed Cooper while strapping him into his car seat. But Harris said he forgot to drop his son off at day care and drove to work, forgetting the boy was in the backseat.
Boring told the jury Harris’ account doesn’t make sense. He said the restaurant is just over half a mile from the Home Depot office where Harris worked as a computer technician, and Harris parked his SUV by backing up between two vehicles — which would have required looking over his shoulder toward the backseat where his son sat.
Later that day, Harris opened his vehicle to toss in a bag of light bulbs he bought during his lunch break, Boring said. After leaving work, he drove a few miles to a shopping center without stopping, the prosecutor said, though police later reported the SUV reeked from “sweat, a dirty diaper, the smell of death.”
“The facts of this case only make sense if the defendant had planned on intentionally killing his son,” Boring said.
Boring said on the day Cooper died, his father sent more than 30 messages on his phone “mostly to women, mostly about sex.”
He said Harris was unhappy in his marriage to the boy’s mother and was obsessed with finding other sex partners. The month before his son died, Boring said, Harris met a prostitute for sex at a hotel. He had also been trying to persuade an underage, 17-year-old girl to send him a photo of her genitals. Harris was also charged for sending the girl sexually explicit text messages and photos.