Since then, the twists and turns in the case of Cooper’s father, Justin Ross Harris, who left the toddler in the car for seven hours, have received national attention.
It was also revealed that Harris sexually assaulted several women – some of whom were minors at the time – while his son was trapped in the vehicle, according to a witness statement from an investigator.
Summer 2014: Toddlers die, and explicit messages pop up
On June 18, 2014, Harris Cooper strapped into his rear-facing car seat and drove from his family home to a nearby Chick-fil-A.
Instead of dropping off his son in daycare afterwards, he went to work at Home Depot, where he was a web designer. He parked and walked in, leaving Cooper strapped into the car for the next seven hours.
Harris stopped by the car early that afternoon, allegedly to put away some bulbs he had bought. But it was not until that afternoon, while driving to a nearby movie theater, that Harris claimed to notice that his son was still in the car. He pulled into a mall parking lot and pulled the child’s body from the SUV.
Records show that the mercury peaked at 92 degrees that day, and police say the temperature was 88 degrees when the boy was pronounced dead in a parking lot not far from his father’s workplace.
“Justin stated that he was afraid this could happen,” the ruling said.
Investigators also found that Harris went by a different name on social media and sent messages to several women – some minors – while his son was dying in the car. Some of the messages were explicit, Stoddard said, and included nude photos.
In September 2014, Harris was indicted by a grand jury on eight charges, including malicious murder and two counts of felony murder.
The other five charges against Harris included: first-degree cruelty to children, second-degree cruelty to children, criminal attempt to commit a crime (sexual exploitation of a minor) and two counts of spreading harmful material to minors.
The toddler’s mother asks for privacy in the wake
At the time, Harris had been married to Leanna Harris. The two married in May 2006.
She was never charged in connection with her son’s death.
“Am I mad at Ross?” she said at the time. “Absolutely not. It has never crossed my mind. Ross is and was and will be, if we have more children, a wonderful father. Ross is a wonderful father and leader of our household. Cooper meant the world to him.”
For the most part, Harris stood by her husband’s side for a full eight years, capturing police attention in 2014.
For example, a detective testified that she asked her husband, “Did you say too much?” in a police interrogation room after he was arrested, and that she also insisted to staff at her son’s daycare that “Ross must have left him in the car” when they told her that Cooper had not been put off that morning. Police also said both parents conducted internet searches on how hot a car should be to kill a child.
Harris, through his lawyer, would ultimately ask for privacy.
The only questions Zimmerman asked were:
- Before June 18, did you know that your husband would leave your son in that vehicle?
- Did you plan or arrange with your husband to leave your son in that vehicle?
- Did your husband tell you he would leave your son in that vehicle?
She answered no to the three questions and the results showed there was no deception in her answer, Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman said at the time his client was “concerned that the district attorney’s office may try to bring an indictment against her.”
Introduction to the trial period includes additional fees and change of venue
It was October 2015 when the quarrels around Justin Ross Harris’ sexting minors began.
Prosecutors say sexting-related charges help determine the motive – Harris was not happy at home and wanted to be free from his responsibilities such as marriage and paternity. Harris’ defense attorney, H. Maddox Kilgore, denied, saying he did not believe the allegations that Harris sent sexually explicit material to minors had anything to do with the allegations that he intentionally killed his son.
“(Harris) has borne the burden of presenting a real demonstration of the likelihood of prejudice due to extensive publicity, so it would not be just trying the case in Cobb County,” Staley said.
Autumn 2016: The trial begins, with the toddler’s mother as the key witness
Harris’ trial began in October 2016 and spanned nearly five weeks.
Defense attorneys claimed Harris was responsible for his son’s death, but to claim that he deliberately let the boy die in a suffocating SUV was not true.
Prosecutors claimed evidence showed Harris had a motive for killing his son. He and his wife had problems with intimacy, and his wife even told the booth that he was struggling with pornography.
Despite all their problems, Leanna Harris – now Leanna Taylor – served as a key witness for the defense. Taylor described Harris as a “very involved” parent who loved their son. In her mind, she said, the only possible explanation behind her son’s death was that Harris “forgot” Cooper and accidentally left him in the car.
Summer 2022: Georgia’s Supreme Court overturned murder
The Georgia 2022 Supreme Court ruling stated that evidence presented by prosecutors for Harris’ extramarital sex had an unfair detrimental effect on the jury.
This evidence “did little about something” to demonstrate Harris’ intent when he left Cooper in the car, the statement said, “but it would probably lead jurors to conclude that the appellant was the kind of man who would engage in other morally repulsive behaviors (such as leaving his child to die painfully in a hot car) and who deserved punishment. “
Since the evidence shown to prove Harris’ intent “was far from overwhelming, we can not say that it is highly probable that the erroneously admitted sexual evidence did not contribute to the jury’s guilty verdicts,” the court’s statement reads.
The Cobb County District Attorney’s Office plans to file a motion with the court to reconsider its decision, the office said in a statement following the statement.
Harris’ other beliefs related to the texts remain in place. He was sentenced to a total of 12 years for these charges.
CNN’s Mayra Cuevas, Tina Burnside, Dakin Andone, Faith Karimi, Michael Pearson, Ralph Ellis, Carma Hassan, Vivian Kuo, Marlena Baldacci, Nick Valencia, Ashley Fantz, Devon Sayers, and Eliott C. McLaughlin contributed to this report.