Ex-wife of man, 41, who had life sentence overturned over death of infant son praises decision
The former wife of a Georgian man sentenced to life in prison for leaving their young son to die in a hot car has praised the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn his conviction – describing her ex-husband as a committed father, but ‘a terrible husband’ .
Justin Ross Harris, 41, was sentenced to life in prison for the death of his 22-month-old son Cooper, who died in June 2014 after being in a hot car for seven hours.
Cooper’s mother, Leanna Taylor, has always maintained that Cooper’s death was an accident.
On Wednesday, the Georgia Supreme Court overturned the murder conviction after finding that the jury had been given evidence that was “extremely and unreasonably harmful.”
Taylor said Thursday the court had made the right decision, calling it “great news for Ross and his family.”
She added: “I know they are grateful for this turn of events.”
Justin Ross Harris, 41, is pictured in court in July 2014 — a month after Cooper’s death
Cooper, 22 months old, was left in the back seat of Harris’ car for more than seven hours in June 2014
Harris was described by his ex-wife, Cooper’s mother, as a devoted and loving father
Taylor, whose divorce from Harris was finalized in March 2016, said: “It would be my wish that this would help change the way Cooper was remembered.”
Now living in Alabama, Taylor said she felt justified by the Supreme Court decision.
“While this won’t change my day-to-day life, I hope it shows people what those closest to the cause said from the start: Ross was a loving and proud father to Cooper.
“At the same time, Ross was a terrible husband.
“These two things can and existed at the same time.”
Cooper was almost two years old when he died in his father’s hot car
During the 2016 murder trial, the jury learned that Ross Taylor regularly cheated on prostitutes and multiple other women.
He also had “sexed” a 16-year-old girl and was convicted of three charges of taking care of a minor. The Supreme Court upheld his 12-year sentence for the crime.
Taylor, whose calm demeanor initially suggested she was somehow involved in the child’s death, on Thursday reiterated her disgust at the actions of local prosecutors.
“The Cobb County’s supremacy and abuse of power has overturned this verdict,” she said.
And she called for more to do to introduce early warning systems for kids trapped in hot cars, adding that in the eight years since Cooper’s death, “kids still die the same way every year.”
She concluded, “Wasting precious resources on prosecuting the parents that this is happening to is not the solution.”
Prosecutors had highlighted Harris’ frequent affairs and sex crimes, claiming they showed he was unhappy in his marriage and deliberately killed his son to free himself.
Happier times: Harris is pictured with his son and then-wife Leanna Taylor
Harris is seen in court in October 2015. His murder trial began in September 2016
Taylor testifies at murder trial after being subpoenaed to testify
She broke off in court while testifying because her son’s photo was held up
Georgia Supreme Court justices argued that Harris’ extensive reports of sexual activity should not have been considered by the jury in connection with Cooper’s death.
The 6-3 majority of the judges believe that the jury has “heard and seen an extensive body of unlawfully admitted evidence.”
The majority argued that prosecutors had created a story for the jury to believe that Harris “deliberately” left his son in the car to die in the heat.
Justices also argued that prosecutors presented “a substantial body of evidence to lead the jury to answer another and more legally problematic question: What kind of man is (Harris)?”
On the morning of June 18, 2014, Harris is alleged to have told police that he forgot to drop his son off at daycare before driving to work at Home Depot in Atlanta.
Harris left Cooper strapped to the back seat of his vehicle for nearly seven hours as the temperature reached the high 80s.
While prosecutors sought to find Harris guilty of murder, defense attorneys said Harris adored Cooper and called his death an accident.
They described him as a loving father and said the boy’s death was a tragic accident.
On the morning of June 18, 2014, Harris reportedly told police that he forgot to drop his quick off at the daycare before driving to work at Home Depot in Atlanta.
Chief Justice David Nahmias wrote for the majority that the evidence of his cases and grooming “made sure the jurors didn’t miss the point that he was a repulsive person.”
But if Harris is found guilty of murdering his son, “it will have to be done by a jury not tainted by that kind of evidence,” he said.
Justice Charlie Bethel wrote a partial dissent that was joined by Justice Shawn LaGrua and Justice Verda Colvin.
He said the state had “the right to provide detailed evidence of the nature, magnitude and magnitude of the truly sinister motive it attributed to Harris.”
For that reason, Bethel wrote, the court “did not abuse its discretion in admitting the disputed evidence.”
Prosecutors can now seek a new murder trial, if they wish.