Justin Ross Harris, accused in son’s hot car death, released from prison

Justin Ross Harris, who was accused in the death of his 22-month-old son Cooper in 2014, was released from prison Sunday, according to online records. (BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM)

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

Justin Ross Harris, who was accused in the death of his 22-month-old son Cooper in 2014, was released from prison Sunday, according to online records. (BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM)

Justin Ross Harris, the man accused of leaving his 22-month-old son Cooper to die in his hot SUV a decade ago, has been released from the state prison system and transferred to the Cobb County jail, where he could spend the remaining two years of his sentence.

When the Georgia Supreme Court overturned Harris’ murder conviction two years ago, it upheld three convictions against him for exchanging graphic text messages to an underage girl.

One of those convictions was a felony – attempted sexual exploitation of a minor, for which Harris was sentenced to 10 years in prison. The other two were misdemeanors, each of which resulted in a 1-year sentence in custody.

Because Judge Mary Staley Clark made all three sentences consecutive, Harris had 12 years to serve in custody for those convictions.

Harris’ trial attorneys, Maddox Kilgore and Carlos Rodriguez, declined to comment. Harris has maintained that Cooper’s death was a tragic accident.

Cobb County District Attorney Flynn Broady announced in 2023 that Harris would not be retried on murder charges.

“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 agency said then. “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.

“Cooper will always be remembered by this office and those who fought for him.”

Attorney Chuck Boring, who as Cobb County’s deputy chief assistant district attorney led the prosecution, decried the decision.

“Obviously the prosecution team who dedicated several years to seeking justice for Cooper was shocked at the decision by DA Broady to dismiss this case, without even speaking with us about the case before doing so,” he said. “While we disagree with, but respect, the decision of the Supreme Court majority, and wholeheartedly agree with the three dissenting justices, the justices unanimously found there to be sufficient evidence to retry and convict the defendant.”

Harris had been incarcerated since 2016 in Macon State Prison.

On June 18, 2014, he planned to drop Cooper off at daycare before his shift at Home Depot, officials said. The pair stopped to eat at Chick-Fil-A but Harris later told police he forgot to drop Cooper off and that he didn’t realize he’d left Cooper in the car seat.

Justin Ross Harris was released from prison Sunday, about 10 years after his son Cooper was left in a hot car and died. (Family photo)

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Cooper died from heat stroke within hours, according to authorities.

Widespread attention from the trial led it to be transferred to Glynn County, where Judge Mary Staley Clark sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole. But in June 2022, the Georgia Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision, ruled that Harris did not receive a fair trial because testimony detailing his extramarital sexual relationships should not have been allowed.

“The state convincingly demonstrated that (Harris) was a philanderer, a pervert and even a sexual predator,” Chief Justice David Nahmias wrote. “This evidence did little if anything to answer the key question of (Harris’s) intent when he walked away from Cooper.”

Harris was separately indicted in March 2016 for possessing lewd photographs of two underage girls, sending nude photos of himself to those girls and engaging in sexually explicit chats. The DA’s office decided not to try Harris on those charges. A court document said the case was no longer being pursued “at the request, or due to the unavailability, of the alleged victim.”