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)
Photo: WSB-TV
Photo: WSB-TV

Minute by minute updates: The Justin Ross Harris sentencing 


Ross Harris today was sentenced to life in prison without parole, plus 32 years, for leaving his son, Cooper, to die in a hot SUV in June 2014.

Harris was found guilty last month on all eight charges against him — including three counts of murder. Here is a minute-by-minute account of today's proceeding.  

2:02 p.m.

Harris is led out of the court by a deputy. The judge declares the court in recess.

2 p.m.

Staley Clark: "The court pronounces the following sentence ... as to count one, the court imposes a sentence, as to malice murder, the jury having found the defendant guilty, the sentence is to serve life in confinement without parole." 

She then reads the remaining counts, imposing prison time for each and noting that each sentence is to run consecutively (or one after the other). 

1:55 p.m.

She then notes that the defendant has been found guilty of all charges against him. "It now becomes my duty to determine which punishment to impose." 

"Except for the fact that the defendant has no prior criminal conviction, there is no mitigating fact or circumstance in this case...."

"This court finds particularly that the defendant, Justin Ross Harris, intentionally and unnecessarily and in a wanton manner inflicted on the victim, Cooper Harris, unnecessary and wanton" agony. 

She notes that the jury was unanimous in its verdict. 

Harris, she says, "callously walked away from that child in that hot car in June. In Georgia."

Staley Clark then calls for Harris and the defense and the prosecution to approach the bench for sentencing.

1:50 p.m.

Boring finishes his presentation. Judge Staley Clark is now reviewing papers at the bench and is silent for an extended period. 

Judge Mary Staley Clark opens the sentencing hearing for Justin Ross Harris in the Cobb County courthouse on Monday, Dec. 5, 2016. (screen capture via WSB-TV)
Photo: WSB-TV

1:48 p.m.

The judge invites evidence of aggravation or mitigation. Each side says it has none. The judge then invites arguments. Each side says it will offer no arguments.

The judge tells Harris directly that he may offer mitigation evidence -- facts that would serve to lessen the severity of his sentence. She asks whether Harris disagrees with his defense team's decision not to offer mitigation evidence. He says no.

The evidence shows the defendant was driven by selfishness and committed an unspeakable act against his own flesh and blood. ... There is no mitigation in this case.  There is no justification. This is the most aggravated type of killing of another individual, especially a child. ... There's only one sentence that reflects the evil nature of what he did. We ask for the maximum sentence allowed by law."

He notes that on Count One, malice murder, Harris be sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. Boring then goes over the remaining counts, totaling it all up at life in prison (without parole) plus 32 years.

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)
Photo: WSB-TV

1:42 p.m.

Staley is passing out accolades, first to court support staff and then to the prosecution and the defense. 

She then launches into the indictment and goes over each of the eight counts. In each case, she asks the prosecutors what the sentencing parameters are. 

Assistant DA Chuck Boring, the lead prosecutor, says of count one, malice murder, "For that count, the parameters are either life with possibility of parole or life without possibility of parole.

The judge: "Does the defense agree or disagree?"

The defense: "We agree." 

They go through each of the counts. 

1:35 p.m.

Harris is escorted in, wearing an orange jail jumpsuit. Judge Mary Staley Clark enters the courtroom.

1:33 p.m.

They've returned and are now seated at the defense table. No sign yet of their client, Justin Ross Harris. 

1:30 p.m.

It's now 1:30, the theoretical starting time for the sentencing hearing. Defense attorneys Maddox Kilgore and Carlos Rodriguez briefly entered the courtroom a few minutes ago but then left again.

* * * 


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

Justin Ross Harris with his attorneys during his murder trial in Brunswick, Ga. (Stephen B. Morton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, Pool)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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