ATLANTA (AP) – More than two months after his son’s death in a hot car, a Georgia man who prosecutors say sat in his office exchanging nude photos with women while his son languished for hours was charged with murder on Thursday.
A Cobb County grand jury indicted Justin Ross Harris on multiple charges, including malice murder, felony murder and cruelty to children. The malice murder charge indicates that prosecutors believe that Harris intentionally left his son Cooper in the hot car to die.
The eight-count indictment also includes charges related to sexually explicit exchanges prosecutors say Harris had with an underage girl.
Harris has been in jail since his arrest the day his 22-month-old son died. Harris’ lawyer, Maddox Kilgore, did not immediately respond to a phone message and email seeking comment.
Harris has told police he was supposed to drive his son to day care the morning of June 18 but drove to work without realizing that the child was strapped into a car seat in the back.
Police have said the toddler was left in a vehicle for about seven hours on a day when temperatures in the Atlanta area reached at least into the high 80s. The medical examiner’s office has said the boy died of hyperthermia – essentially overheating – and has called his death a homicide.
During a three-hour hearing in July, prosecutor Chuck Boring questioned a police detective at length, outlining evidence he said proved that Harris intentionally left his young boy in the hot SUV. But defense attorney Maddox Kilgore argued that the evidence was insufficient and that the boy’s death was a tragic accident.
Harris was sitting in his office exchanging nude photos with several women, including a teenager, the day his son died, Cobb County Police Detective Phil Stoddard testified at the hearing.
The indictment also accuses Harris of asking a girl under the age of 18 to send him a nude photo and of sending nude photos of himself and sexually explicit messages to her. It charges him with attempting to sexually exploit a child and with disseminating harmful material to a minor.
Stoddard said Harris also had looked at websites advocating a child-free lifestyle and had researched how long it takes to die in a hot car.
Harris is a native of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and moved to Georgia in 2012 to work for Home Depot.
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- June 30, 2014: Mom of boy left in hot car says husband was ‘great father’
- June 28, 2014: Warrant: Man did Web search on kids dying in cars
- June 25, 2014: Ga. father who left son in hot car checked vehicle at lunch, warrant says
- June 19, 2014: Ga. father charged with murder after leaving toddler in hot car