(ATLANTA) — The defense gave its opening statements Tuesday in the murder case against Justin Ross Harris, the Georgia man accused in the 2014 hot-car death of his 22-month-old son, Cooper, maintaining that it was an accident and that Harris had “forgotten” to drop the child off at day care that day.
Harris’ minutes-long drive to work was so short that “there wasn’t enough time for anything to re-engage his memory that Cooper was in the car,” Maddox Kilgore, Harris’ lawyer, told the court.
“If he had driven another five miles, chances are pretty good he’d have had to look over his shoulder and see him, but the drive was so short there wasn’t time for that cue that we normally get: ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. I’ve got to do this,'” Kilgore said.
Harris had not forgotten that he had a son but had “lost awareness that he’s in the car,” Kilgore added.
Cooper died June 18, 2014, after spending about seven hours in a rear-facing car seat in Harris’ 2011 Hyundai Tucson in Atlanta, police said. Temperatures in the area reached the low-90s that day.
Harris drove to work at the Home Depot corporate office that morning with Cooper in the back seat before leaving the boy in the car when he went into the building, authorities say.
Harris returned to his car during lunch to put something away, then went back to work. Later that day, after Harris returned to his car and drove away from work, he pulled over in a shopping center where he asked for help for Cooper, authorities say.
Harris tried to perform CPR but was too overwhelmed and couldn’t concentrate, his lawyer said.
Cooper died from hyperthermia.
Court documents show Harris had allegedly researched child deaths in hot cars before this incident.
Kilgore said during defense arguments Tuesday that Harris had looked into a family vacation for the trio. Kilgore maintained Tuesday that Cooper’s death was an accident.
“Ross loved that little boy more than anything,” Kilgore said Tuesday. “Cooper’s death was an accident. It was always an accident and that’s exactly what he told the police.”
Harris, of the Atlanta suburb of Marietta, was indicted in September 2014 on eight charges that include malice murder, felony murder and cruelty to children. Because of pretrial publicity, the trial was moved nearly 300 miles away from Atlanta to the coastal Georgia city of Brunswick.
He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
If convicted of all charges, Harris could face life in prison, according to the Cobb County District Attorney’s office. A life term in Georgia is 30 years, unless the sentence is life without parole.
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