(ATLANTA) — In the ongoing murder case against a Georgia man whose 22-month-old son died when he was left in his father’s hot SUV, the jury Thursday took a first-hand look inside the SUV.
While the jurors appeared calm during the viewing, a source says several jurors broke down crying after seeing the car and the toddler’s car seat.
Justin Ross Harris’ son, Cooper, died on June 18, 2014, after spending about seven hours in a rear-facing car seat in Harris’ 2011 Hyundai Tucson, police said. That day, temperatures in Atlanta were in the low 90-degrees.
Authorities say Cooper was in the car when Harris drove to work at a Home Depot corporate office that morning. When Harris went inside, Cooper was left in the vehicle. Harris returned to his car during lunch to put something away, then went back to work.
Later that day, after Harris went back again to his car and drove away from work, he pulled over in a shopping center where he asked for help for Cooper, authorities say. Cooper — who was not yet 2 years old — died from hyperthermia.
At Thursday’s juror viewing, each juror diligently walked around the vehicle in eerie silence, first with the car doors closed, then with the driver’s door open.
Jurors were not allowed to sit in the car, but most leaned in as far as they could, observing the position of the car seat in reference to where Harris sat that day.
One juror appeared to be reenacting Harris’ movements from that day, walking up to the vehicle several times and making notes. Most of the jurors seemed to be focused on the red car seat where Cooper, who was 22-months-old when he died, sat in the back seat.
The vehicle viewing lasted less than 10 minutes. Attorneys from both sides, along with a detective, were present. But, Harris was absent; he requested to be excused from that part of the trial.
Harris faces eight charges total: Malice Murder, Felony Murder (two counts), Cruelty to Children in the First Degree, Cruelty to Children in the Second Degree, Criminal Attempt to Commit a Felony and Dissemination of Harmful Material to Minors (two counts). Harris has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.
Court documents stated Harris allegedly researched child deaths in hot cars before the incident. Cooper was pronounced dead after he had been locked in the SUV while Harris went to work. Charges in the indictment also refer to sexually explicit online exchanges from March 2014 through the day of Cooper’s death that prosecutors say Harris had with an underage girl. Prosecutors have argued that Harris wanted to be free of his family responsibilities and was having multiple online affairs, including with the underage girl.
Defense attorneys said Cooper’s death was an accident and that Harris forgot his son was in the car.
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