Justin Ross Harris’ ex-wife reacts to decision reversing his murder conviction

In this video screenshot, Leanna Taylor, ex-wife of Justin Ross Harris, speaks to AJC reporters in Birmingham on Feb. 10.

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In this video screenshot, Leanna Taylor, ex-wife of Justin Ross Harris, speaks to AJC reporters in Birmingham on Feb. 10.

‘Ross was a loving and proud father to Cooper,’ Leanna Taylor says

After Justin Ross Harris left their 22-month-old son, Cooper, to die in a hot car eight years ago, Leanna Taylor told police she did not believe he meant to do it. She stood by him on the witness stand during his murder trial and told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an interview after the trial that Harris was no murderer.

“I don’t believe he planned the murder of his child – our child – I don’t believe that,” Taylor told the AJC in February 2017. “I don’t think he deserves to be in prison for the rest of his life.”

On Thursday, Taylor called the Georgia Supreme Court’s decision reversing Harris’ murder conviction “big news for Ross and his family. I know they are grateful for this turn of events.”

She added, “It would be my wish that this would help to change the way that Cooper was remembered.”

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Leanna Taylor with son Cooper Harris, who died in a hot car. (WSB-TV/Cox Media Group, provided by Leanna Taylor)

Leanna Taylor with son Cooper Harris, who died in a hot car. (WSB-TV/Cox Media Group, provided by Leanna Taylor)

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Leanna Taylor with son Cooper Harris, who died in a hot car. (WSB-TV/Cox Media Group, provided by Leanna Taylor)

In a 6-3 opinion, the state Supreme Court ruled that Harris did not receive a fair trial because the trial judge allowed days of improper and highly prejudicial testimony about Harris’ extramarital sexual activities, such as sleeping with prostitutes and sending graphic texts and photos to minors.

Such evidence “ensured that the jurors didn’t miss the point that he was a repulsive person,” Chief Justice David Nahmias wrote for the majority. But if Harris is to be found guilty of his son’s murder, “it will need to be by a jury not tainted by that sort of evidence.”

ExploreComplete coverage of the Justin Ross Harris case

Harris, who was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, is now entitled to a new trial.

But he is not getting out of prison just yet. The court upheld three convictions involving his attempted sexual exploitation of a minor and his texting sexually graphic photos to her. For that, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison, and he has been in custody since June 18, 2014, the day Cooper died.

“While this will not change anything about my day to day life, I do hope that it shows people what those closest to the case have been saying since the beginning: Ross was a loving and proud father to Cooper,” Taylor said in a statement issued by her lawyer, Lawrence Zimmerman.

“At the same time, Ross was being a terrible husband,” she said. “These two things can and did exist at the same time.”

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Initially, Cobb County police questioned whether Taylor may have been complicit in Cooper’s death, something she vehemently denied. In a post-trial interview, lead prosecutor Chuck Boring said told the AJC that Taylor had nothing to do with Cooper’s death.

Yet Taylor’s antipathy to Cobb authorities apparently still lingers.

“The overreaching of Cobb County and their misuse of power is what has brought this verdict to be overturned,” she said.

She added that it has been eight years since Cooper’s death, yet “children have continued to die the same way every year. Wasting precious resources prosecuting the parents that this happens to is not the answer.”

Taylor urged lawmakers pass legislation that requires vehicles to have safety features that alert drivers to prevent children being left behind in hot cars.