The judge in the Justin Ross Harris murder trial impaneled a jury Monday, and opening statements are expected to begin soon in the case of the Georgia father accused of intentionally leaving his 22-month-old son to die in the back seat of a sweltering SUV in 2014.
The jury is composed of six men and six women, and two men and two women will serve as alternates.
The case so far has been an emotional one, with the defense saying Harris was a loving father who experienced a tragic — but not unheard of — breach of memory. The prosecution, on the other hand, says Harris knew his son was in the car, and may have had personal reasons for wanting the boy out of his life.
While the case centers on Cooper’s death, prosecutors plan to introduce evidence to support allegations that the churchgoing 35-year-old regularly sought sexual fulfillment outside his marriage and maintained a sordid online presence.
In May, Judge Mary Staley agreed to move the trial from Cobb County in metro Atlanta, saying that the defense made a “substantive showing” that extensive publicity may have prejudiced jurors.
Harris’ trial is taking place in Brunswick, a south Georgia coastal city, about 300 miles away from Cobb County.
He faces charges of malice murder, two counts of felony murder and cruelty to children in the first degree. Some of the charges in Harris’ indictment stemmed not from Cooper’s death, but from Harris’ alleged habit of sending sexual text messages to underage girls. According to prosecutors, Harris was having these illicit chats with as many as six women on the day his son died.
On June 18, 2014, Harris, then 33, strapped his son Cooper into a rear-facing carseat and drove the pair from their Marietta, Georgia, home to a nearby restaurant and then to The Home Depot corporate headquarters where Harris worked. After Harris arrived at work, he left Cooper strapped in his car seat rather than dropping him off at daycare, according to the charges against the father.
That day, Harris left the corporate campus to go to lunch. Upon returning, Harris went to his car and put away light bulbs he had bought during the lunch break, authorities say. The defense says Harris did not notice his son, still in the backseat. According to medical examiners, Cooper was likely already dead.
Sometime after 4 p.m., when Harris was driving toward a theater to see a movie, Harris says he noticed his son.
Harris turned into a shopping center a few minutes after leaving the Home Depot campus and pulled Cooper’s lifeless body from the car. His screams attracted a crowd of onlookers, some of whom called 911. Others attempted to help Harris administer first aid.
Witnesses said Harris was hyperventilating and screaming. Meanwhile, Leanna Harris was already headed to the day care where her husband was supposed to have dropped off Cooper. When she learned Cooper had never arrived, witnesses said she came to an immediate conclusion.
“Ross must have left him in the car,” she’s reported as saying. “There’s no other explanation. Ross must have left him in the car.”
At 10 p.m., Justin Ross Harris was arrested. An autopsy later confirmed that Cooper Harris died of hyperthermia.