Georgia father freed from prison 10 years after his toddler died in hot car, leading to murder case

MACON, Ga. — A Georgia father has been released from prison 10 years after his toddler died in a hot car, a case that made headlines around the world after prosecutors charged him with murder.

Justin Ross Harris was released from Macon State Prison on Sunday – Father’s Day – according to Georgia Department of Corrections records. He began serving his sentence on December 6, 2016.

Harris had moved from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to the Atlanta area for work in 2012. He told police that on the morning of June 18, 2014, he forgot to drop off his 22-month-old son Cooper at daycare. Instead, he drove straight to his job as a web developer for The Home Depot and left the child in his car seat, he told investigators.

Cooper died after sitting in the backseat of the Hyundai Tucson SUV for about seven hours outside his father’s office in suburban Atlanta, where temperatures that day reached at least well into the 80s.

During the trial, prosecutors advanced a theory that Harris was miserable in his marriage and killed his son so he could be free. They presented evidence of his extramarital sexual activities, including exchanging sexually explicit messages and explicit photos with women and girls and meeting some of them for sex.

Harris was found guilty in November 2016 on eight counts, including murder with intent. A judge convicted him to life in prison without parole, as well as an additional 32 years in prison for other crimes.

But the Georgia Supreme Court voted 6-3 to overturn his convictions for murder and child abuse in June 2022 said the jury saw evidence that was “extremely and unfairly prejudicial.”

Prosecutors said at the time that he would not get a new trial in Cooper’s death. The Cobb County Prosecutor’s Office, which prosecuted the case, said in a statement that it disagreed with the majority’s decision. But because of that ruling, prosecutors said crucial evidence about Harris’ motive was no longer available to them.

Harris’ lawyers have always maintained that he was a loving father and that the boy’s death was a tragic accident.

Although it dismissed the murder conviction, the state Supreme Court upheld Harris’ convictions for three sex crimes committed against a 16-year-old girl that Harris had not appealed. He remained in custody for these crimes until Sunday, when he was released from prison.

Harris’ case attracted extraordinary attention, making headlines around the world and sparking debates online and on cable news programs. After determining that pretrial publicity had made it too difficult to find a fair jury in suburban Atlanta’s Cobb County, the presiding judge agreed to move the trial to Brunswick on coastal Georgia.