Justin Ross Harris, whose murder conviction for the 2014 hot-car death of his 22-month-old son in Georgia was overturned by the state’s Supreme Court last year, will not be retried, prosecutors said Thursday.
Last year’s decision nullified a sentence of life in prison but left in place a 12-year sentence, which Harris still is serving, for other charges he was convicted of in his 2016 trial. The decision not to retry Harris came after a “thorough review of the entire case file,” the Cobb County district attorney’s office said in a news release.
“Crucial motive evidence that was admitted at the first trial in 2016 is no longer available to the state due to the majority decision of the Supreme Court,” the release reads.
“Therefore, after much thought and deliberation, we have made the difficult decision to not retry Justin Ross Harris on the reversed counts of the indictment.”
Harris’ son, Cooper, died in June 2014, after he was left strapped inside Harris’ car for seven hours on a hot day, while his father went to work.
Harris was relieved to learn he won’t be retried and “thankful that today’s dismissal may begin to restore Cooper’s legacy as a child much loved by his parents,” one of his attorneys said Thursday.
“Ross has always accepted the moral responsibility for Cooper’s death. But after all these years of investigation and review, this dismissal of charges confirms that Cooper’s death was unintentional and therefore not a crime,” attorney Carlos Rodriguez said.
“Throughout the course of representing Ross, we have learned that these tragic accidents often happen while the child is in the care of a loving parent. Ross was no different,” Rodriguez said.
‘Cooper will always be remembered’
Harris was convicted in 2016 on three counts of murder and two counts of cruelty to children for the death of his son, and was also found guilty of three counts relating to his electronic exchanges of lewd material with a different minor.
He was sentenced the same year to life in prison without parole for his son’s killing and received another 12 years on the other three charges.
In June 2022, Georgia’s Supreme Court overturned his murder conviction, ruling 6-3 that evidence submitted by prosecutors of Harris’ extramarital relationships – which the state had portrayed as motivation behind his alleged decision to kill his son – had unfair prejudicial impact on the jury.
Other evidence that allegedly pointed to Harris intentionally leaving Cooper to die “was far from overwhelming,” the court’s opinion said.
Only the convictions for the crimes against his son were overturned. Harris did not challenge the others in his appeal, the court’s ruling said.
“We would like to thank the Cobb County Police Department, all current and prior DA’s Office staff, and all other agencies who worked tirelessly for years to obtain justice for Cooper,” the prosecutors’ news release reads. “Cooper will always be remembered by this Office and those who fought for him.”