SAVANNAH, Ga. – Four months after the first attempt to seat an impartial jury failed, the trial of a metro Atlanta man charged with murder after his toddler son died in the back seat of a hot SUV is starting over — this time 275 miles from the scene of the death.
Justin Ross Harris is charged with intentionally killing his 22-month-old son, Cooper, by leaving the boy sweltering in his car seat on June 18, 2014, outside Harris’ workplace.
The case proved too sensational for Harris to stand trial in the Atlanta suburbs. After nearly three weeks of jury selection in April and May, a Cobb County judge decided intense media coverage had left too many in the jury pool with strong opinions about Harris, who moved to Georgia in 2012 from Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
The judge ordered that the trial moved to coastal Glynn County, where a second attempt at picking a jury is scheduled to begin Monday.
Here are things to know as the trial restarts.
Police have said Harris’ son spent about seven hours inside the SUV outside the Home Depot offices where Harris worked as a technician. Temperatures in metro Atlanta that day in June climbed into the high 80s.
Prosecutors say Harris left the toddler to die on purpose. They say he was unhappy in his marriage, was seeking online and in-person romantic relationships with other women and had researched websites promoting a child-free lifestyle. In addition to charges related to his son’s death, Harris is also charged with sending sexually explicit text messages and a photo to a girl under age 18.
Defense attorneys have called the death a tragic accident. Harris told police he watched cartoons with his son that morning, took him to breakfast at a Chick-fil-A restaurant and kissed Cooper while strapping him into his car seat. But Harris said he forgot to drop his son off at day care and drove to work, forgetting the boy was in the back seat.
WHY DID THE TRIAL MOVE?
From the beginning, Harris’ case received intense media coverage in metro Atlanta. It also made headlines nationally and became widely discussed online and on cable news shows.
In April, the judge and attorneys in the case had about 250 potential Cobb County jurors fill out a 17-page questionnaire. Over the course of nearly three weeks, more than 80 were interviewed individually about the case. Many said they believed Harris was guilty. Others said they would try to be fair, but it would be difficult.
On May 3, Superior Court Judge Mary Staley Clark granted a defense request to relocate the trial.
WHAT’S THE NEW LOCATION?
Harris will now be tried in Glynn County, located on the coast about 60 miles south of Savannah. Potential jurors will be pulled from a diverse population that includes blue-collar workers in the port city of Brunswick and upper-class retirees on neighboring St. Simons Island.
While Harris’ case certainly received attention beyond metro Atlanta, it shouldn’t be difficult to find Glynn County jurors who know little about the case, said J. Tom Morgan, former district attorney for DeKalb County.
“People in Atlanta think all of Georgia is paying attention to what happens in Atlanta,” Morgan said. “But the rest of Georgia couldn’t care less most of the time, especially about crime.”