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Ga. man charged with murder in son's hot car death

Published on NewsOK Modified: September 5, 2014 at 7:58 am •  Published: September 5, 2014

MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) — A Georgia man whose toddler son died after he was left in a hot car for seven hours has been charged with murder in a case that has drawn widespread attention amid prosecutors' claims that he intentionally left the boy alone.

A Cobb County grand jury on Thursday indicted Justin Ross Harris on multiple charges including malice murder, felony murder and cruelty to children. The malice murder charge indicates that prosecutors intend to prove 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.

The case has attracted enormous national attention from the moment police arrested Harris in a parking lot where he had parked and pulled his 22-month-old son out of his car seat. Harris has told police he was supposed to drive his son to day care the morning of June 18 but drove to work instead and didn't remember the child was in back until he was driving to a movie after work.

Police have said the toddler was left in the 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 bond and probable cause hearing in July, the courtroom was packed with reporters, Harris' friends and family and people with no connection who were simply curious about the case. Among the evidence presented by a police detective: Harris was exchanging nude photos and racy messages online with several women as his son languished in the hot SUV; he had looked at websites promoting a child-free lifestyle; and he showed little emotion when questioned about his son's death.

Defense attorney Maddox Kilgore argued at the hearing that the evidence was insufficient and that the boy's death was a tragic accident.

"It was always an accident and when the time comes and we work through the state's maze of theories at trial, it's still going to be a terrible, gut-wrenching accident," Kilgore told reporters Thursday afternoon. He added that his client is "a very broken guy" and was devastated after losing his son, livelihood and freedom.

Reached by telephone later Thursday, grand juror Vivien Sanders, 68, of Austell, said while jurors had several questions about the charges, "they were satisfied enough to where we made a unanimous decision." Sanders declined to comment further, citing the upcoming trial.

Harris will be arraigned in the next few weeks, and Cobb County District Attorney Vic Reynolds said he will decide before then whether to seek the death penalty.

The publicity could cause difficulties when the case eventually goes to trial, said David Weinstein, a defense lawyer and former federal prosecutor in Miami who's not connected to the case.

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