Sunny Hostin

Jury Selection Begins in Case Accusing Georgia Dad of Murder in Son's Hot Car Death

by Emily Shapiro for ABC News


Photo Credit: Kelly J. Huff / AP Photo

ABC News | April 11, 2016 - The jury selection process began today in the case against a Georgia father whose 22-month-old son died when he was left in a hot SUV.

Justin Ross Harris, 35, faces charges including murder for the June 2014 death of his son, Cooper, who police said died after he spent about seven hours in a car on a day when temperatures in Atlanta reached into the high 80s.

Judge Mary Staley took the bench at 1 p.m. to hear first from potential jurors who wish to be excused from duty, the Cobb County District Attorney's office told ABC News.

Jury selection could take up to two weeks, District Attorney Vic Reynolds said in a statement. "We anticipate the evidence portion of the trial may then consume three to four weeks," Reynolds' statement said.

"We stand ready to try this case," the statement added.

ABC News' Senior Legal Correspondent Sunny Hostin says jury selection is critical in every case -- "so much so that many attorneys believe that cases are won or lost at jury selection."

"Generally, lawyers are looking for jurors who know nothing about the facts of [the] case and are willing to consider the facts without any preconceived notions favoring either side," Hostin said. "However in this case, given the amount of pretrial publicity, it's going to be difficult to find a juror who hasn't heard about this case. Difficult but not impossible. The key will be to find a juror that can put aside whatever they've heard and listen to the facts as they are introduced at trial."

Dad of Toddler Killed in Hot Car Researched Child Deaths, Warrant Says

Harris was indicted in Sept. 2014 on charges including felony murder and cruelty to children. Court documents show Harris allegedly researched child deaths in hot cars before he left his 22-month-old son locked in his SUV all day while he went to work. Charges in the indictment also relate to sexually explicit online exchanges prosecutors say Harris had with an underage girl from March 2014 through the day of Cooper’s death. Prosecutors say that Harris was having multiple online affairs, including with the underage girl, and argue that this shows he wanted to be free of his family, according to the Associated Press.

The district attorney's office said Harris faces eight charges total: Malice Murder, Felony Murder (two counts), Cruelty to Children in the First Degree, Cruelty to Children in the Second Degree, Criminal Attempt to Commit a Felony and Dissemination of Harmful Material to Minors (two counts). Harris has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.

Harris's defense attorney Maddox Kilgore declined to comment to ABC News today.

If convicted of all charges, Harris could face life in prison, the district attorney's office said.

In Georgia, life is 30 years, unless the sentence is life without parole.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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