Life in prison for Georgia dad who left son in hot car to die

By Christian Boone

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

MARRIETA, Ga. — Justin Ross Harris, convicted three weeks ago of intentionally leaving his 22-month-old son inside a hot car to die, was sentenced Monday to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

An additional 32 years — the maximum penalty allowed — was tagged on to the sentence by Cobb County Superior Court Judge Mary Staley Clark, following the recommendation of prosecutors.

“The state’s recommendation is the very least that can be considered just,” Staley Clark said.

“There is no justification,” lead prosecutor Chuck Boring said Monday in requesting the toughest punishment possible. “This is basically the most aggravated killing of another individual, especially a young child … that there’s only one sentence that reflects the evil nature of what he did.”

Harris, now 36, left his toddler son Cooper strapped into a car seat in the back of his sweltering SUV for seven hours on June 18, 2014. He was supposed to take Cooper to day care that morning, but instead, just minutes after the father-son pair had breakfast at Chick-fil-A, the former Home Depot web developer drove straight to work.

Harris, in an orange jumpsuit, his feet shackled, said nothing when given the opportunity to speak on his own behalf prior to sentencing on Monday. His defense team — focused on the appeal they say they will file within the next 30 days, as required by law — was also mum.

“They’re making it trial strategy decision not to provide any mitigating evidence at this time,” Boring said.

Lead defense attorney Maddox Kilgore didn’t elaborate in court Monday.

“There were breakdowns in this process that occurred,” Kilgore said following Harris’ conviction. “There were breakdowns in the investigation. There were breakdowns in the pretrial phase, the motions phase. And there were breakdowns in the trial. It’s our belief those breakdowns affected the verdict.”

Harris maintained his innocence from the beginning. “Demeanor and dirt,” as Kilgore characterized the prosecution’s strategy during the trial, ultimately proved too damning to ignore for the Glynn County jury. The trial was moved from Cobb after Staley Clark determined than an unbiased panel could not be found in Harris’ home county.

In a post-verdict meeting with the prosecution, jurors revealed that, from the start, there was near-unanimity Harris was guilty of murder.

Harris will be evaluated at Jackson State Prison to determine where he will serve out his sentence.

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