MARIETTA, Ga. — A Georgia man faces charges of felony murder and child cruelty after his 22-month-old son died Wednesday.
Police have said Justin Ross Harris told investigators he was supposed to drive his son to daycare, but drove straight to work and didn’t realize the boy was strapped in his car seat until the ride home Wednesday afternoon, hours later. Harris, 33, told police that as soon as he became aware, he pulled his family’s SUV into a nearby shopping center and began trying to revive the child. The child’s name has not been released.
Temperatures in the metro Atlanta area that day reached the low 90s, but Cobb County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Dana Pierce said Friday that the department has not yet determined the manner and cause of the boy’s death.
Harris is expected to remain in jail for at least the next month after a judge denied bond during a Thursday night court hearing.
Cobb County District Attorney Vic Reynolds, whose office is handling the case, said a felony murder charge is appropriate when a person dies but the investigation is “far, far from over.”
“It’s just a terrible, God-awful situation,” Reynolds told WSB Radio. “I can’t imagine, I can’t fathom what any parent would be going through at this stage. It’s the type of case that affects the community.”
Harris was silent and showed no outward emotions during the court hearing, WSB-TV reported. He pleaded not guilty, WXIA-TV reported.
Prosecutors may opt for the harshest charges available and then scale back in potential felony murder cases, said Jessica Gabel, an associate professor of law at Georgia State University in Atlanta.
“They’re definitely going to look at how healthy was the child, the family’s previous history, whether dad was usually somebody who was very responsible,” she said. “And the defense, if this reaches a trial, will be collecting their evidence that he was a good parent, a fit parent.”
Neighbors and others who met Harris and his wife told local news media that they were loving parents.
The Harris family’s landlord, Joe Saini, described Harris and his wife as “very, very nice” people who were in love with their baby, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
“Everything was going right for this couple,” Saini said. “They wanted to buy a house so they could have some space for their child to run around the backyard.”
Ingrid Maier, a neighbor of the Harris family, told The Marietta Daily Journal the community would do whatever it could to bring comfort to the family.
“I’m just so saddened by this whole thing,” she said. “That’s a sweet couple and I really feel for the husband.”