Did this dad-of-one make a horrible mistake? Or did he callously kill his son..?
The evidence upset the jury and everyone else in the courtroom in Georgia, USA. Even the man accused of murder sat crying.
On the morning of 18 June 2014, dad Justin Ross Harris, 33, strapped his toddler son Cooper into a rear-facing car seat in his car.
Cooper was two months off his 2nd birthday. They went to a fast-food restaurant for breakfast. And, afterwards, Justin strapped Cooper into the seat again.
Next, he was meant to drop Cooper off at daycare. His wife Leanna usually took him, but there’d been a change of plan that day.
But Justin was on autopilot. While Cooper dozed in his car seat, Justin drove to the office where he worked as a web developer for a DIY company.
He pulled up in the office car park and went in to his desk. And it wasn’t until 4 o’clock in the afternoon he remembered…
He’d left Cooper asleep, locked in the car, in the baking Georgia sunshine. That day, the temperature had soared to 32 degrees.
By the time Justin got out to his car, Cooper was dead. His little body had overheated hours before.
But it’d been an accident. Justin had forgotten his son, plain and simple. He hadn’t meant to. Now he’d live with the regret and the if-onlys his whole life…
At least, that’s what he’d said at the time. But the police didn’t agree. They felt they could prove Justin had killed his son on purpose.
Now the lawyers in court were going to prove it. First came the evidence from Justin’s computer.
In the days before Cooper’s death, he’d been doing some research. Records showed he’d been looking into how hot it would have to be for someone to die in a car. He’d also viewed a website about child-free living.
The prosecution even had a motive: Justin wanted his son dead because he’d wanted to leave his family for someone else. Or maybe just enjoy the single life.
Either way, he didn’t want to be a family man any more…
For some time, Justin had been leading a double life. To the outside world, he was a happily married father-of-one.
No-one knew he was sleeping with other women. Some he met online, others in public places for anonymous, no-strings sexual encounters. He paid for sex, too.
In fact, while he’d been at work that day, he’d been messaging six women about sex. One of them was under-age at just 16.
His son was in a car dying of heatstroke and suffocation while his dad was sexting strangers. Didn’t that prove intent? That he’d wanted his son dead?
There was one person who said no, it didn’t. And that was Justin’s wife – Cooper’s mother.
Leanna Harris took to the witness stand, saying that Justin had ruined her life, that she never wanted to see him again.
The jury listened as she related how their marriage had lost its spark. Intimacy between them was gone.
After his arrest, Leanna had found out about all the other stuff– the sexting and prostitutes – and she’d decided to divorce Justin. But none of that meant she thought he was guilty. Quite the opposite.
‘He was an involved parent, he loved our son,’ she told the court.
She didn’t believe him capable of murder.
Justin hadn’t been used to dropping Cooper off at daycare. He’d simply forgotten their child was in the car. It was a horrible, fatal mistake, but a mistake all the same.
Then there was the prostitute Justin had visited. She gave evidence, too, explained how besotted Justin was with Cooper, how he talked about him the whole time.
Justin’s lawyers questioned the computer evidence. They claimed Justin hadn’t been researching temperatures needed to kill, but that he’d viewed a video on his computer of a veteran soldier talking about the effects of heat on animals. It was the kind of thing anyone might come across.
And he’d been sent some spam along the lines of child-free living, with a link to a Reddit message board called Child Free. But records showed Justin’s one-word reply: Grossness.
Besides, what the prosecution failed to mention was that, the day before Cooper died, Justin had been thinking about booking a family holiday.
He’d gone so far as to search whether kids went free on cruise ships. Why would he have bothered if he’d known his boy would be dead the next day?
It was wrong of Justin to cheat on his wife and use prostitutes. And texting someone under-age naked pictures was a criminal offence. But that didn’t make him a child killer.
The evidence had been heard. Would the jury believe Justin had simply forgotten his son was in his car that day?
In November 2016, Justin Ross Harris was found guilty of murdering his son. He was also convicted of seven other counts, including child cruelty for leaving Cooper in the car, and sex crimes related to texts he sent to a 16-year-old.
In December he was sentenced to life without parole. However, his lawyers say they intend to file a motion for a new trial.
Leanna has since posted to Facebook about her little boy, writing: Nothing will ever feel worse than living with the knowledge that his pain and his death could have been prevented… I pray YOU never have to walk this path.