Attorneys choose jury in trial of dad accused of intentionally leaving son in hot car

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COBB COUNTY, Ga. — Jury selection begins Monday for the Justin Ross Harris case. Harris is charged with murder in the death of his 22-month-old son, Cooper. 

Police say Harris left Cooper strapped into a car seat under a baking sun for seven hours while he went to work. Records show the mercury topped 92 on June 18, 2014, and police say the temperature was 88 degrees when the boy was pronounced dead in a parking lot not far from his father’s workplace.

Harris, who is being held without bail, has pleaded not guilty.

When news of the boy’s death first broke, it was cast as a tragic mistake by an absentminded father. Police later indicated that evidence pointed to something more sinister and that some of the father’s statements to first responders “were not making sense,” said Sgt. Dana Pierce of the Cobb County Police Department after his arrest.

Cooper Harris

Cooper Harris

According to a criminal warrant, Harris placed Cooper into a rear-facing child restraint in the backseat of his Hyundai Tucson after eating breakfast at a fast-food restaurant.

The web developer then drove to his workplace, a Home Depot corporate office about a half-mile away, according to the warrant. Normally, Harris would drop Cooper off at an on-site day care there.

The father returned to the SUV during his lunch break, opening the driver’s side door “to place an object into the vehicle,” the warrant states.

Initially, police said Harris had apparently forgotten the boy was in the backseat and didn’t remember until after he left work, at which point he pulled into a parking lot asking for assistance and wailing, “What have I done?”

Later, investigators said they discovered Justin Ross Harris messaged six women, sending and receiving explicit texts — some including nude images — from work while Cooper was dying in the hot car.

Harris’ attorney repeatedly objected to Cobb County, Georgia, police Detective Phil Stoddard’s testimony regarding Harris sexting the women but the judge allowed it because it was a probable cause hearing.

Stoddard said Harris told police that he reached no one on his phone after taking his lifeless son out of his vehicle on June 18. But police determined he made three phone calls, including at least one that went through — a six-minute conversation to his son’s daycare center.

Cooper HarrisHarris’ wife, Leanna Harris initially stood by her husband but in February she filed for divorce.

Jury selection begins with the pool of jurors being sworn in. They’ll be under oath when they answer questions about what they’ve heard about the case, their feelings on the case and how fair they can be in delivering a verdict in the case.

A former DeKalb County judge tells CBS46 News that picking the jury will be extremely difficult because of all of the media attention the case has received over the past two years.

“People talk about picking a fair and impartial jury but that’s not what the lawyers are trying to do at all,” said Keegan Federal, a former DeKalb County judge who is now a legal analyst for CBS46. “The fact of the matter is, they’re trying to find very partial jurors. Partial to their side of the case.”

Sources close to the case say there is a distinct chance the trial could be moved to a different part of the state if there aren’t enough qualified jurors to be found in Cobb County.

The grand jury indicted Harris on eight counts including: malice murder, felony murder, felony murder, first-degree cruelty to children, second-degree cruelty to children, sexual exploitation of children, and two counts of dissemination of harmful material to minors.