‘Sexting’ Charges Stand in Father’s Hot Car Death Trial

Note: The hot car death of Cooper Harris and the subsequent investigation into his father Ross Harris was one of the last big stories I covered for Patch. The incident happened in the Smyrna area, which was the main town I was covering before the 2014 layoffs and one of the towns I was assigned when I came back later that year. 

A Cobb County judge has decided not to separate “sexting” charges from the upcoming trial of a man who is accused of leaving his son inside a hot car to die.

Prosecutors argue that Ross Harris purposely neglected to drop his son, Cooper, off at his daycare on June 18, 2014, and left the 22-month-old boy strapped into his car seat for seven hours. Prosecutors also claim that Harris searched online for information on hot car deaths and ways to live a “child-free” life.

Cobb County judge Mary E. Staley announced the start date of Ross Harris’ trial would be Feb. 22, 2016, according to WSB.

Harris was indicted by a grand jury on Sept. 4, 2014, on eight counts relating to the death of his son. Harris pleaded not guilty to all eight counts against him in October.

Cobb County District Attorney Vic Reynolds announced in September of 2014 that the state would not seek the death penalty against Harris if he is convicted.

On Monday, Staley ruled against a defense motion which sought to sever charges of one count of criminal attempt to commit a felony (sexual exploitation of children) and two counts of dissemination of harmful materials to minors from the rest of the eight-count indictment.

Harris is accused of using his phone to ask a girl under 18 to send nude photographs to him, sending nude photographs of himself to her, and describing sexual conduct to her — all while Cooper was strapped into the back seat of Harris’ car.

Staley ruled testimony from Cobb County police was more than sufficient to show that Harris had allegedly been seeking a new life with other women he met via social media on the day Cooper died, including girls as young as 17. Prosecutors argue that the messages show a motive for Cooper Harris’ death, WSB-TV said.

Last month, Staley ruled that statements Harris made to police shortly after the death of his son Cooper could be used in the upcoming murder trial. Harris allegedly swore at an officer trying to get him off the phone and allegedly told a detective that he hadn’t left Cooper in the car intentionally, something the detective had never heard anyone say before.

That same detective testified in July 2014 that Harris had two life insurance policies on Cooper’s life.