Justin Ross Harris sentenced to life in prison without parole

Justin Ross Harris is sentenced to life in prison for killing his 22-month-old son Cooper. (BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM)
Justin Ross Harris is sentenced to life in prison for killing his 22-month-old son Cooper. (BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM)

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

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.”

» Why did the jury convict Justin Ross Harris on all counts?

» Why the Justin Ross Harris case is far from over

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.

Lead prosecutor Chuck Boring addresses the judge during the sentencing hearing for Justin Ross Harris in the Cobb County courthouse on Monday, Dec. 5, 2016. (screen capture via WSB-TV)
Lead prosecutor Chuck Boring addresses the judge during the sentencing hearing for Justin Ross Harris in the Cobb County courthouse on Monday, Dec. 5, 2016. (screen capture via WSB-TV)

Credit: WSB-TV

Credit: WSB-TV

“They’re making it trial strategy decision not to provide any mitigating evidence at this time,” lead prosecutor Chuck 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 pre-trial phase, the motions phase. And there were breakdowns in the trial. It’s our belief those breakdowns affected the verdict.”

» Photos: Key moments in the Justin Ross Harris case

» Photos: Harris family photos from the trial

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.

A more complete story will appear soon on MyAJC.com.

Justin Ross Harris arrives in court for his sentencing hearing in the Cobb County courthouse on Monday, Dec. 5, 2016. (screen capture via WSB-TV)
Justin Ross Harris arrives in court for his sentencing hearing in the Cobb County courthouse on Monday, Dec. 5, 2016. (screen capture via WSB-TV)

Credit: WSB-TV

Credit: WSB-TV

COUNTS AND SENTENCES

Ross Harris was found guilty on all eight counts.

Count 1. Malice murder. This is Georgia’s equivalent of “first-degree murder” (although Georgia law has no such charge). It asserts intent. The indictment charges that Harris “did unlawfully and with malice aforethought cause the death of Cooper Harris.”

Sentence: Life without parole

Count 2. Felony murder, count one. In felony murder, the defendant causes the death of another during the commission of a felony. In count one against Harris, the “underlying” felony was cruelty to children in the first degree.

Sentence: Vacated by law (due to conviction on Count 1)

Count 3. Felony murder, count two. In count two, the underlying felony was cruelty to children in the second degree.

Sentence: Vacated by law (due to conviction on Count 1)

Count 4. First-degree cruelty to children. Goes to intent; i.e., the defendant meant to inflict harm. The indictment says Harris “did maliciously cause Cooper … cruel and excessive physical pain.”

Sentence: 20 years, consecutive to Count 1.

Count 5. Second-degree cruelty to children. This charge is not concerned with intent but goes more to what the defendant failed to do and the consequences of that failure. The state alleges that Harris “did, with criminal negligence, cause Cooper Harris … cruel and excessive physical pain.”

Sentence: 10 years, merges into Count 4

Count 6. Sexual exploitation of children. Relating to Harris’ attempts to persuade a minor female to provide him images of “her genital and pubic area.”

Sentence: 10 years, consecutive to Counts 1 and 4

Count 7. Dissemination of harmful material to minors, count one (misdemeanor). The first relates to texts Harris sent to a minor female containing “explicit and detailed verbal descriptions and narrative accounts of sexual excitement and sexual conduct.”

Sentence: 1 year, already served

Count 8. Dissemination of harmful material to minors, count two (misdemeanor). The second involves Harris’ sending images of his erect penis to minor females.

Sentence: 1 year, already served

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