Justin Ross Harris sits in Cobb County Magistrate Court in
Marietta, Georgia in July. REUTERS/Kelly Huff /Pool/Files
A Georgia man should be tried for charges including
malice murder after leaving his 22-month-old son strapped in an
overheated car for seven hours, a grand jury has decided.
Justin Ross Harris, 33, also faces two counts of felony
murder for the June 18 death. The eight-count indictment by a
Cobb County grand jury includes charges of child cruelty and
a criminal charge involving sexual exploitation of a child.
The death penalty is possible in case of conviction, said
Cobb County District Attorney Vic Reynolds, who will decide
whether to seek that sentence in the next two to three weeks.
"The evidence in this case has led us to this point today,"
he said in a statement.
The case of the suburban Atlanta father, who has been jailed
since his son's death, has drawn attention to a tragic cause
of death in children.
So far this year, 26 children have died of vehicle-related
heat strokes in the United States, according to
KidAndCars.org. On average, the group sees 38 such deaths
each year. Although parents typically face criminal charges
in about half the deaths, the group said felony murder
charges were unusual.
"We've seen some pretty extreme charges this year," said
Amber Rollins, director of the nonprofit organization, based
in Kansas City, Missouri.
The indictment said Harris acted "with malice aforethought"
when he placed his toddler in a car seat and left him in a
sport utility vehicle on a day when the temperature was in
the 90s F.
Harris told police he forgot to drop his son, Cooper, off at
his daycare center on his way to work and only discovered the
child after he left the office that afternoon.
Prosecutors contended that Harris deliberately left Cooper in
the car because he wanted to live a child-free life.
Harris' attorney, Maddox Kilgore, has argued there is no
proof his client knowingly left the child in the car.
In July, a judge ordered Harris to remain jailed without bond
after hearing evidence he exchanged nude photographs with
women other than his wife while he was at work and his son
was dying in the car.
Investigators testified that Harris did Internet research on
living child-free and how to survive in prison before his
son's death. He was having marital and work problems,
Harris' wife, Leanna, was interviewed by authorities but has
not been charged in the case.