BRUNSWICK, Ga. (AP) — A jury evenly split between men and women was selected Monday to decide the trial of a Georgia man charged with murder after his toddler son died two years ago while left in the back of a hot SUV.
Justin Ross Harris is charged with malice murder and other crimes in the June 2014 death of his 22-month-old son, Cooper. Prosecutors have said Harris, 35, exchanged lewd text messages during the hours the boy sweltered in the parked vehicle outside his father’s metro Atlanta workplace.
The case drew national attention and was so closely followed in Harris’ suburban home of Cobb County that a judge moved the trial 275 miles to Brunswick, on the Georgia coast.
Sixteen total jurors — eight men and eight women — were seated Monday morning to hear the case. Four of them will serve as alternate jurors, who will have a final say in the trial only if one more of the 12 main jurors are dismissed. Superior Court Judge Mary Staley Clark did not specify which jury members were alternates.
The final jury was picked from a pool of 45 people deemed qualified by the judge and attorneys during jury selection proceedings in September.
Prosecutors and Harris’ defense attorneys were scheduled to deliver opening statements Monday afternoon.
Prosecutors say Harris, who moved to Georgia in 2012 from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, left his son to die on purpose. They say he was unhappy in his marriage, sought relationships with other women and had researched websites promoting a child-free lifestyle. In addition to charges related to his son’s death, Harris is also charged with sending sexually explicit text messages and a photo to a girl under the age of 18.
Defense attorneys have called the death a tragic accident. Harris told police he watched cartoons with his son that morning, took him to breakfast at a Chick-fil-A restaurant and kissed Cooper while strapping him into his car seat. But Harris said he forgot to drop his son off at day care and drove to work, forgetting the boy was in the back seat.
He faces life in prison if he’s convicted of murder. Prosecutors decided not to seek the death penalty.