A US judge has sentenced Justin Ross Harris to life in prison without parole for the death of his 22-month-old son Cooper, who died after being left in a hot SUV in June 2014.
Last month, a jury convicted Harris of malice and felony murder and other charges for intentionally leaving little Cooper in the hot vehicle to die. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole yesterday (Monday, December 5th) by Judge Mary Stanley Clark. The 36-year-old father was also sentenced to an additional 32 years, to be served consecutively to the life sentence, after being found guilty of child cruelty and sexual exploitation of a child, which was based on Harris’ sexual texts to an underage teenage girl.
US Magazine reports that Judge Clark told Harris at his sentencing that she hoped the case would serve as a warning to other parents about the dangers of leaving children in hot cars:
“Perhaps not the way you intended, you in fact have accomplished that goal.”
According to a report by ABC News the judge stated that the jury:
“fairly deliberated and discharged their duties and found the defendant guilty of what factually was a horrendous, horrific experience for this 22-month-old child who had been placed in the trust of his father. And in violation and dereliction of duty to that child, if not love of that child, callously walked away and left that child in a hot car, in June, in Georgia, in the summer to swelter and die.”
Although Harris’ legal team have insisted that he accidentally left his son in the sweltering vehicle, prosecutors argued that Harris intentionally killed his young son as a means to escape his unhappy marriage.
Cooper was found dead after his father left him in the SUV for seven hours on a day when temperatures were in the 80s. CNN reports that Harris later told police he ‘forgot’ to drop his son off at day-care that morning, and didn’t realise he’d left Cooper in his rear-facing car seat while he went to work. Harris claimed that it was not until around 4 p.m. that day, as he drove to a local cinema, that he noticed his son was still in the car. CNN reports that Harris then pulled over to a nearby shopping centre, where witnesses stated that he started screaming.
In a chilling turn of events, investigators later discovered that Harris (then married to Cooper’s mother, Leanna) had been having a series of affairs, both online and in real-life. It also emerged that he had relationships with a sex worker and an underage teenage girl. Despite their recent divorce, Leanna testified as a witness for Harris and is said to believe that Cooper’s death was a tragic accident.