Georgia father freed from prison 10 years after his toddler died in hot car, booked into county jail

MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) — A father from Georgia has been released from prison 10 years after his toddler died in a hot car, a case that made global headlines after prosecutors accused him of murder.

Justin Ross Harris was freed on Sunday — Father's Day — from the Macon State Prison, Georgia Department of Corrections records show. He began serving his sentence on Dec. 6, 2016.

After he was released from the prison system, he was booked into Cobb County's jail later Sunday, jail records show. He could serve the remaining two years of his sentences in the county jail, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Harris had moved from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to the Atlanta area for work in 2012. He told police that on the morning of June 18, 2014, he forgot to drop off his 22-month-old son Cooper at day care. Instead, he drove straight to his job as a web developer for The Home Depot and left the child in his car seat, he told investigators.

Cooper died after sitting for about seven hours in the back seat of the Hyundai Tucson SUV outside his father’s office in suburban Atlanta, where temperatures that day reached at least into the high 80s.

At trial, prosecutors put forth a theory that Harris was miserable in his marriage and killed his son so he could be free. They presented evidence of his extramarital sexual activities, including exchanging sexually explicit messages and graphic photos with women and girls and meeting some of them for sex.

Harris was found guilty in November 2016 on eight counts including malice murder. A judge sentenced him to life without parole, as well as 32 more years in prison for other crimes.

But the Georgia Supreme Court voted 6-3 to overturn his murder and child cruelty convictions in June 2022, saying the jury saw evidence that was “extremely and unfairly prejudicial.”

Prosecutors said at the time that he would not face another trial over Cooper's death. The Cobb County district attorney’s office, which prosecuted the case, said in a statement that it disagreed with the majority’s decision. But because of that ruling, prosecutors said crucial evidence about Harris’ motive was no longer available for them to use.

Harris’ lawyers have always maintained that he was a loving father and that the boy’s death was a tragic accident.

Though it dismissed the murder conviction, the state Supreme Court upheld Harris’ convictions on three sex crimes committed against a 16-year-old girl that Harris had not appealed.

Harris served prison time for a felony conviction — attempted sexual exploitation of a minor, which resulted in the 10-year prison sentence, the Atlanta newspaper reported. The remaining one-year sentences are for a pair of misdemeanors for distribution of obscene materials to minors, Cobb County jail records show. The county jail is in the Atlanta suburb of Marietta, the same county where Cooper died.

Harris’ case drew an extraordinary amount of attention, making headlines around the world and sparking debates online and on cable news shows. After determining that pretrial publicity had made it too hard to find a fair jury in Cobb County in suburban Atlanta, the presiding judge agreed to relocate the trial to Brunswick on the Georgia coast.

The Associated Press