MARIETTA, Ga. (Reuters) - A Georgia man will spend the rest of his life behind bars for intentionally leaving his toddler son to die inside a sweltering sport utility vehicle on a summer day, a judge ruled on Monday.
Justin Ross Harris, 35, was found guilty last month of felony murder, as well as counts of first- and second-degree cruelty to a child in connection with the June 2014 death of the 22-month-old boy, Cooper.
The former Home Depot (HD.N) web developer was also convicted of criminal attempt to commit sexual exploitation of a child because of explicit texts he sent to a teenage girl.
Looking exhausted and wearing an orange prison jumpsuit in the courtroom, Harris said only “yes” and “no” in response to Cobb County Superior Court Judge Mary Staley Clark.
His attorneys declined to offer any evidence on Monday to mitigate his sentence. During the trial, they had described Harris as a flawed but God-fearing man who loved his only child. They said he simply forgot to take the boy to his daycare centre after a father-and-son breakfast.
The defence lawyers left court without comment after the sentencing. They have said they will appeal Harris’s conviction, but have not yet said on what grounds.
Prosecutor Chuck Boring told the session that Harris committed “an unspeakable act” against his own flesh and blood, and that he should be given the maximum sentence allowed.
“There’s only one sentence for this act of evil,” he said. “We ask a term of life in prison without parole.”
Sentencing Harris to life with no parole plus 32 years, Clark said the defendant had deliberately caused his own child “unimaginable, severe physical and mental agony.”
Harris, the judge added, had “callously walked away and left that child ... to swelter and die.”
Prosecutors had argued he left the child to die so he could enjoy a child-free lifestyle and pursue other women, including teenagers and prostitutes. Phone and internet records show he was texting with other women even as his son was left for seven hours outside his workplace.
Police testified that Harris showed little emotion over the boy’s death, except in what seemed to be staged outbursts. It was also revealed at the trial that he visited his car during a lunch break, but said he did not see his son in the back seat.
Vic Reynolds, the Cobb County district attorney, told reporters that his office gets no joy from winning the case, but that they have found “justice for Cooper Harris.”
Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Jonathan Oatis