Justin Ross Harris told women he chatted up online he would leave his wife if not for their son, whom the Cobb County father is accused of intentionally leaving inside a hot car to die, the lead detective in the case testified Monday.
Cobb County Superior Court Judge Mary Staley denied the defense’s motion to sever charges related to those conversations — including several sexually charged online chats with a minor — from the other charges against him, including malice murder, felony murder and cruelty to children.
Harris’ trial date was set for February 22. Update: Trial date has been set for April 2016
New details of those online chats surfaced during Monday’s hearing, including one that occurred within 15 minutes of the last time Harris, 34, saw his son alive.
While eating with 22-month-old Cooper at Chick-fil-A on the morning of his his death, Harris, responding to a woman who posted that she “hated” being married with kids, said, “I love my son and all but we both need escapes.”
According to Cobb County Police Detective Phil Stoddard’s testimony, that qualifies as a motive to kill, or at least one of several.
In that same conversation the morning of Cooper’s death, Harris said he missed “having time to myself and going out with my friends.”
The former Home Depot web developer pleaded not guilty to the charges and has been held without bond since his arrest in June 2014.
Defense attorney Maddox Kilgore said that while the conversations may reveal his client to be a “philanderer” or “adulterer” they don’t indicate a motive.
“The state wants to bootstrap every bad act they can think of to prove some grand conspiracy,” he said.
In its motion, the defense argued the charges — criminal attempt to commit sexual exploitation and dissemination of harmful materials to minors — “are not of a similar character or nature” to the murder charges and were added to interject “evidence of bad character” against Harris, violating his right to a fair trial.
Prosecutor Chuck Boring argued that Harris was motivated in part by his desire to be with other women, including the minor named in the indictment.
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