'Hot car dad' Justin Ross Harris: Did he intentionally leave his toddler to die?

By news.com.au, Staff writers

Justin Ross Harris was a prolific sexter and allegedly trawled social media for women and girls, including one as young as 17. Photo / Supplied
Justin Ross Harris was a prolific sexter and allegedly trawled social media for women and girls, including one as young as 17. Photo / Supplied

The jurors in the trial of a US man accused of intentionally leaving his toddler to die in a locked car over seven agonising hours have been asked a series of shocking questions.

Justin Ross Harris faces multiple charges, including murder, in relation to the death of 22-month-old Cooper in an unventilated SUV at the carpark of his Georgia office on June 18, 2014.

Harris, who is widely known as the "hot car dad", claims he forgot his only son was in the vehicle when he drove to work on that piping hot day.

However, prosecutors will allege Cooper's death was no accident but all part of a grand plan by Harris to get out of an unhappy marriage so he could pursue his love of young girls.

Two of the eight counts against him relate to dissemination of pornography against minors.

Harris admitted under police questioning to having researched "child deaths inside vehicles and what temperature it needs to be" after detectives examined his computer.

Police discovered Cooper's mother Leanna had also looked up child deaths in cars but she was never charged and there is no suggestion she was in on her former husband's alleged plot.

The pair divorced last year.

Court commentators believe the outcome of this largely circumstantial murder case hinges on jury selection. To that effect, more than 250 potential jurors were today asked to complete a 17-page document containing dozens of personal questions, some relating to sex, pornography and their love life.

They ranged from the startling "Have you ever had sexual addiction?", "Have you looked at a pornographic website?" "Have you ever had an extramarital affair?" to more mundane questions like, "Do you have a child that rides in a car seat?" "Have you watched any legal documentaries or docudramas?" and "Have you ever driven a Hyundai Tucson?"

The questions stem from allegations that Harris was sexting underage girls, having extramarital affairs and also researched hot car deaths and a child-free lifestyle.

Prosecutors say Harris was messaging up to six women the day Cooper died, and reportedly told one woman on the app Whisper: "I love my son and all but we both need escapes".

A sample of the 17-page questionnaire for potential jurors.
A sample of the 17-page questionnaire for potential jurors.

The evidence

The prosecution contends Harris murdered Cooper by deliberately leaving him in a hot car because he had decided he wanted to live a child-free life.

Police seized 120 computer discs containing videos, photos, Harris's cell phone records, the contents of his home computer hard drives, his emails and interviews with everyone he came into contact with that day, including witnesses, co-workers and friends.

Investigators uncovered evidence that Harris was busy sexting women at his office desk as Cooper was dying in the SUV, with the windows rolled up and the temperature rising.

Prosecutors will allege that Cooper was already dead when Harris jumped back in the vehicle after work and that he drove away with the child's body still strapped in, only to alight a few minutes later in front of a group of witnesses who watched as he reacted to Cooper's death.

Post examination results showed the toddler died of hyperthermia, baking to death in the locked vehicle for at least seven hours.

Cobb County Police Detective Phil Stoddard has testified at pre-trial hearings that when he told Harris he was being charged with murder, Harris said, "there was no malicious intent."

Detective Stoddard said there was evidence Harris had been living a double life, pursuing love interests in his native Alabama and attempting to hide his law enforcement experience from investigators.

It emerged in pre-trial hearings that Harris had taken out two life insurance policies on Cooper to the tune of $2600 and $32,650 respectively.

Detective Stoddard testified that investigators also found that Harris had accessed websites advocating "child free" and searched "how to survive prison" before Cooper died.

Jury selection will continue for the rest the rest of the week.

- news.com.au

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