ADVERTISEMENT

Man convicted of leaving son in hot car denied new trial

May 22, 2021 GMT

MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) — The judge who presided over the 2016 murder trial of a man convicted of leaving his son inside a hot car has denied his motion for a new trial.

Cobb County Superior Court Judge Mary Staley Clark’s ruling, issued Thursday, was not surprising. Had she granted the motion, she would have had to admit to key errors on her part in the case involving Justin Ross Harris, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Harris’ lawyers plan to appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court.

Harris, convicted of purposely leaving his 22-month-old son, Cooper, inside a hot car to die on June 18, 2014, is serving a life sentence plus 32 years at Macon State Prison. He maintains his son’s death was accidental.

Harris’ defense team — Marietta attorneys Maddox Kilgore, Carlos Rodriguez and Bryan Lumpkin — claimed the judge prevented them from challenging the credibility of Cobb County police and expert witnesses.

ADVERTISEMENT

“There was no question at all, ever, in our minds, that we would not be allowed to question a law enforcement officer who had given false testimony under oath in this very case,” Kilgore told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in December.

The defense said those errors were used only to impugn Harris’ character and were irrelevant to the question of whether Cooper’s death was intentional.

The state, in its response to Harris’ motion for a new trial, argued the evidence supported their theory that the defendant killed his young son “to live a life without children, to be able to divorce his wife and then to have numerous sexual relationships.”

Cobb police Detective Phil Stoddard testified that Harris was involved in a group that promoted a “child-free” lifestyle, a claim Kilgore said was “an outright lie.”

According to the defense, the child-free group had come up in a Google chat with a co-worker, prosecution witness Alex Hall, who sent Harris the link to the Reddit subgroup. Harris’ response? “Grossness!”

Marietta attorney Ashleigh Merchant said she believes the defense has a strong case for appeal.

“I think everyone can agree it was highly prejudicial,” Merchant said of evidence allowed detailing Harris’ sexual escapades. “How relevant was it? I personally think it’s a leap to say because he wants to live this lifestyle, that must mean he wants his child dead. I just don’t see that.”