ATLANTA — A suburban Atlanta man charged with murder after his 22-month-old son died from being left in a hot car for seven hours was having marital and work problems and wanted to live a child-free life, prosecutors said on Thursday.
The lead detective in the case against Justin Ross Harris, 33, of Marietta said Harris had exchanged sexually explicit text messages with women other than his wife in the weeks before the child’s death.
He also had done Internet research on living child-free, how to survive in prison and child deaths in hot cars because he feared it could happen, Cobb County Detective Phil Stoddard testified at Harris’ probable cause hearing.
A judge will decide if there is sufficient evidence against Harris on charges of felony murder and child cruelty stemming from his son’s June 18 death and whether he should be released on bail pending a trial.
“We plan to show that he wanted to live a child-free life,” a prosecutor told the judge.
Harris’ defense attorney argued the status of his marriage and his alleged texting with women did not prove a motive in his child’s death.
Harris told police he forgot to drop his son, Cooper Harris, off at daycare before heading to work the morning of June 18. But police have said evidence showed the case was more than simple negligence.
According to search warrants, Harris and his wife said they had conducted Internet searches about how hot cars needed to be for a child to die inside.
Harris’ wife has not been charged, and police have declined to say whether she is a suspect.
Police have said Harris left his son in a rear-facing car seat in his sport utility vehicle. The father returned to his car during his lunch hour and placed something inside through the driver’s side door, then went back to his office, according to a search warrant.
The temperature in Atlanta that day was in the 90s, police said. Georgia’s medical examiner found the toddler died from heatstroke.
Harris told police he realized his son was in the car as he was leaving work that afternoon. He pulled into a shopping center parking lot, pulled the child out of the car and appeared to try to revive him.