Jurors in hot-car-death trial go vote

BRUNSWICK, Ga. (AP) — Jurors were excused at noon Tuesday so that they would have an opportunity to vote following brief deliberations in the murder trial of a Georgia man whose toddler son died after being left for hours in a hot car.

Cobb County Superior Court Judge Mary Staley Clark adjourned court to give members of the panel time to cast Election Day ballots.

The jury started weighing evidence Tuesday morning in the monthlong trial of Justin Ross Harris. Prosecutors say Harris intentionally left his 22-month-old son, Cooper, to die in his SUV in the parking lot of his suburban Atlanta workplace on June 18, 2014.

Jurors heard about five hours of closing arguments on Monday.

Defense attorney Maddox Kilgore told jurors that police rushed to judgment in concluding a crime had been committed and then used evidence of Harris’ affairs outside his marriage “to essentially bury him in a mountain of his own sexual sins.” He insisted the child’s death was unrelated.

“If it’s an accident, it’s not a crime,” Kilgore said. “He is responsible. Only him. Nobody else. And he has acknowledged that from day one. But responsible is not the same thing as criminal.”

The arguments capped more than a month of courtroom testimony in coastal Brunswick after Harris’ trial was moved from the Atlanta suburb of Cobb County because of pretrial publicity. A native of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Harris moved to Georgia in 2012.

Prosecutor Chuck Boring told the jury it is impossible to believe Harris forgot about his son. The drive from the Chick-fil-A restaurant where they ate breakfast to the Home Depot office where Harris worked as a web developer was less than a mile, he noted. Cooper’s car seat faced backward, but was secured in the middle of the SUV’s back seats just a few inches from where Harris sat.

Prosecutors also charged Harris with sending sexual text messages and photos to a teenage girl, including during the hours Cooper sat dying in the car. Kilgore said nothing Monday to dispute those charges.

Instead, he argued Harris never let fatherhood prevent him from carrying out his secret sexual escapades, which ranged from flirting online to meeting a prostitute for sex.

“Ross was already doing whatever he wanted to do,” Kilgore said. “Ross had nothing to gain by killing his son.”

The jury will continue their deliberation today.