An Unusual Murder Charge After Toddler Dies in Hot Car

Georgia man forgot to drop son at day care

By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff

Posted Jun 20, 2014 12:13 AM CDT | Updated Jun 20, 2014 4:30 AM CDT

(Newser) – A father in Georgia has been charged with not only child cruelty but murder after his 22-month-old son died in a hot SUV while he was at work. Police say Justin Ross Harris, 33, left his son Cooper strapped in a car seat for seven hours on Wednesday, when temperatures climbed into the 90s, after forgetting to drop him off at day care. Police say that after he noticed his unresponsive son in the back seat as he drove home, the horrified father pulled over, took him out of the vehicle to try to revive him, and had to be physically restrained when he realized his son was gone. "He kept saying, 'What have I done? What have I done?'" a witness tells WBTV.

The family's landlord tells the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Harris and his wife are "very, very, nice" people who were besotted with their baby. Harris is being held without bond and will be in jail for at least the next month. Similar tragedies happen all too often—Cooper is the 13th child to die in an overheated car in the US so far this year—but murder charges are rare. "It's a terrible tragedy. This man is being punished more in his own heart and mind than might be the situation when the case comes to court," an attorney who has defended parents in similar cases tells Time. "The thought of being the cause of death to your own child is like a life sentence." A day before the Georgia case, a 9-month-old girl in Florida died after being left in a pickup truck for several hours while her father went to work after forgetting to drop her off at her grandmother's house. "I would have much rather been the one suffering," the heartbroken father—who has not been charged with a crime—tells WFTV. He says he wants others to learn from his mistake. "Keep something in the front seat to remind you, you know that the baby is there," he says. "Just double-check everything."

Cobb County police investigate an SUV where a toddler died near Marietta, Ga., when the father forgot to drop his child off at day care and went to work.   (WXIA, WGCL, FOX 5)
Justin Ross Harris, left, appears with his attorney before a judge yesterday evening.   (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal Constitution, Ben Gray)
Harris' booking photo.   (Cobb County Sheriff's Office)
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