Murder Conviction Overturned in Hot Car Death Case

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Aisha: So, a lot of people are wondering right now when you hear this information because it was a huge story. You say, “Well, what’s next? And could now he be released from prison with the most serious part of his conviction overturned?” Let’s bring in now 11Alive, legal analyst, Page Pate. Page, what can you tell us about what could come next in a case like this?

Page: Well, Aisha, I think the most important thing to know is Justin Ross Harris is not leaving prison anytime soon. The conviction on the sex crime charges, he was sentenced to 12 years for those charges, he’s still going to have to serve those regardless of what happens to the murder charges. But it is now up to the District Attorney in Cobb County, whether to retry him on the murder charges relating to the death of his son, Cooper. That decision will be made probably within the next few months and then he may face another trial on the murder charges while he’s still serving his prison time on the sex crime charges.

Aisha: So, let’s dig a little bit deeper now into how the high court came to this decision around that information that the jury was able to hear during that trial.

Page: Well, the big problem is they took two cases and brought them together in one trial, the charges involving the death of Cooper obviously, those were the murder charges, cruelty to children charges. And then they had these unrelated charges relating to Harris’s communication, mostly text messages, to an underage female, that were very sexual in nature. They brought those two charges together in one trial.

And the Supreme Court said, “Wait a minute, all of that evidence relating to his texting these underage girls should not have been considered by the jury when they’re deciding the murder case. And it was unfairly prejudicial.” It made Harris look like a bad guy. Obviously, he was, the jury convicted him on those sex crime charges. But they should not have had that evidence bleed over into the murder case. Only the text and messages he was sending on the day Cooper died should have been relevant and should have been admitted at trial. That’s what the state Supreme Court said.

Aisha: And I think that’s important to point out here that this is so separate because we have a couple of parents who have already been arrested for leaving kids in hot cars this year. We’ve had hot car-related deaths already in the metro of this year. So, you can’t look at this case as setting precedent for any of those.

Page: No. I mean, to an extent you can. The Supreme Court did find that there was sufficient evidence of the murder charges so that’s why they can retry him again. There was sufficient evidence if you take away all of the information about the underage female, the sex crimes. So, yes, this is still the type of case that police should pursue, the prosecutors should proceed on. And that’s why I think in this case, the Cobb County DA will go back and retry him on those murder charges.

Aisha: All right. So, this is definitely not over in that aspect and we will continue following this. And we thank you for joining us, Mr. Page Pate, giving us that in-depth perspective. Thank you.

Page: Thank you.

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