Ross Harris defense: Guilty verdict result of 'breakdowns' in justice system

Credit: John Carrington

Credit: John Carrington

Justin Ross Harris intended to kill his 22-month-old son Cooper when he left him locked in the back of his SUV on a hot day in June 2014, a Glynn County jury concluded Monday.

Harris was convicted on all eight counts shortly after 3 p.m. Monday. The former Home Depot web developer showed no emotion as the verdict was being read.

Lead attorney Maddox Kilgore became emotional during a post-trial press conference.

With tears forming in his eyes, Kilgore said the defense team, when leaving the jail after having lengthy meetings with Harris, would say, "My God, he's really not guilty."

"We've got the greatest system of criminal justice in the world. It's the envy of the world and we are so proud to be a part of it," Kilgore said. "Sometimes there are breakdowns in the system. When an innocent person is convicted, there's been some breakdowns. That's what happened here."

In the next months and years, "we're going to get to the bottom of these breakdowns."

"From the moment we met Ross Harris, we have never once, ever ... labored wavered in our absolute belief he's innocent," he said.

After the verdict they went with Harris into the holding cell. They prayed together. "Ross didn't say one word, not one word about what happened in that courtroom. ... He talked about Cooper, he talked about how much he misses him ... he talked about how much he'll continue to miss him."

Credit: John Carrington

Credit: John Carrington

Lead prosecutor Chuck Boring also spoke after the verdict. When the attorneys went to the jury room for a post-trial discussion, the jurors said they were almost unanimous at the outset.

Those on the fence wanted to discuss the case more fully, and the jury wound up deliberating four days.

When they asked the jury if there was any one thing that persuaded them, they replied that it was the totality of the evidence and no one thing in particular.

Boring said it's hard to accept that someone is capable of such evil. As for Harris, Boring said, "he has malice in his heart absolutely."

Asked by reporters about whether Harris's ex-wife, Leanna Taylor, was still under investigation in Cooper's death, he said, "We'll leave that to Cobb County police."

Cobb County District Attorney Vic Reynolds said his prosecution team had hoped at first that this was not an intentional act. But Cobb police kept telling prosecutors, "Something is not right about this case, something is very wrong about this case."

“Today is not a victory, nor is it a day we celebrate. In fact, today is a monumentally sad day,” Reynolds said in a statement. “I believe justice was served today on behalf of young Cooper Harris.”

After the verdict, Judge Mary Staley Clark said Harris would be sentenced later; Harris is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 5 in Cobb County.

Harris stood at the defense table with his lawyers as the jury filed in. Staley Clark had instructed the courtroom to show respect to the jury and let it render its verdict without any disruptions. There were none.

The foreman intoned the verdict on each of the charges separately, using the same words each time.

“Count 1. Malice murder. We find the defendant guilty this 14th day of November 2016,” he read.

“Count 2. Felony murder. We find the defendant guilty this 14th day of November 2016.

"Count 3: Felony murder. We find the defendant guilty . . ."

And so it went until he had read through all eight of the charges. Malice murder, two counts of felony murder, cruelty to children in the first degree, cruelty to children in the second degree and two counts of dissemination of harmful materials to minors.

According to Harris' defense team, he thought he had dropped Cooper off at daycare before reporting to work on June 18, 2014, at Home Depot’s Treehouse office building in Cobb County. Cooper's death, they argued, was a tragic accident but not a crime.

“I’m not up here saying he wasn’t conflicted about it,” lead prosecutor Chuck Boring said in his closing argument. Harris “probably vacillated” about whether he was going to kill Cooper and only “pulled the trigger” when the right moment presented itself.

Boring steadfastly held onto his theory that Harris killed Cooper so he could be free of his family and sleep with as many people as possible.

“Of course, this child was a burden and in the way,” Boring said. By carrying out the murder, “he doesn’t have to worry about his child anymore.”

In the end, the six-man, six-woman jury sided with the prosecution all the way.

Harris faces multiple life sentences in prison. Jurors found him guilty on all eight counts — malice murder, two counts of felony murder, first-degree cruelty to children, second-degree cruelty to children, sexual exploitation of children and two counts of disseminating harmful material to minors.

The state called 52 witnesses and introduced more than 900 pieces of evidence during the course of the trial.