Georgia man found guilty of murder in toddler son's hot-car death

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ATLANTA (Reuters) - A Georgia man accused of wanting a child-free life was found guilty by jurors on Monday of murdering his toddler son in June 2014 by leaving him in a sweltering car to die.

Justin Ross Harris, 35, could be sent to life in prison for the death of 22-month-old Cooper, who was left strapped in his car seat for seven hours on a hot day outside his father's suburban Atlanta workplace. Sentencing is set for Dec. 5.

Jurors deliberated over four days before finding Harris guilty of all eight counts against him. In addition to the murder allegations, he stood trial on charges of child cruelty and sex crimes related to explicit texts that he sent to a teenage girl.

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Hot car death of toddler
FILE - In a Thursday, July 3, 2014 file photo, Justin Ross Harris, the father of a toddler who died after police say he was left in a hot car for about seven hours, weeps as he sits at his bond hearing in Cobb County Magistrate Court, in Marietta, Ga. On Thursday,, Sept. 4, 2014, a Cobb County grand jury indicted Harris on multiple charges, including malice murder, felony murder and cruelty to children. The malice murder charge indicates that prosecutors believe that Harris intentionally left his son Cooper in the hot car to die. (AP Photo/Marietta Daily Journal, Kelly J. Huff, Pool, File)
In this undated photo released by the Cobb County (Ga.) Sheriff's Department, Justin Ross Harris poses for a photo. Harris, 33, accused of leaving his 22-month-old son in an SUV on a hot day returned at lunchtime to put something in the vehicle, where the child was strapped into a seat in the back, according to an arrest warrant filed Tuesday, June 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Cobb County (Ga.) Sheriff's Department)
Justin Ross Harris, the father of a toddler who died after police say he was left in a hot car for about seven hours, wipes his eye as he sits during his bond hearing in Cobb County Magistrate Court, Thursday, July 3, 2014, in Marietta, Ga. Harris who police say intentionally killed his toddler son by leaving the boy inside a hot SUV was exchanging nude photos with women the day his son died and had looked at websites that advocated against having children, a detective testified Thursday. At that same hearing, a judge refused to grant bond for Harris, meaning he will remain in jail. (AP Photo/Marietta Daily Journal, Kelly J. Huff, Pool)
Justin Ross Harris, center, the father of a toddler who died after police say he was left in a hot car for about seven hours, arrives for his bond hearing at Cobb County Magistrate Court Thursday, July 3, 2014, in Marietta, Ga. Harris is currently being held without bond on a child cruelty charge and a murder charge. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Cobb County police investigate an SUV where a toddler died Wednesday, June 18, 2014, near Marietta, Ga., when the father forgot to drop his child off at day care and went to work. Justin Ross Harris, 33, was being held without bond on a felony murder charge Thursday, police in suburban Atlanta said. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal Constitution, Ben Gray)
Cobb County police investigate an SUV where a toddler died Wednesday, June 18, 2014, near Marietta, Ga., when the father forgot to drop his child off at day care and went to work. Justin Ross Harris, 33, was being held without bond on a felony murder charge Thursday, police in suburban Atlanta said. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal Constitution, Ben Gray)
In this image taken from closed-circuit television, Justin Ross Harris, left, appears with his attorney, Maddox Kilgore, before Cobb Magistrate Judge John Strauss on Thursday evening, June 19, 2014, in Marietta, Ga. Harris is charged with felony murder and first-degree cruelty to children in the death of his 22-month-old son, who was left in a hot SUV for hours. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal Constitution, Ben Gray)
The hearse leaves the University Church of Christ after a service for Cooper Harris on Saturday, June 28, 2014, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Harris, 22 months old, died in Georgia on June 18 after he was left in his fathers' SUV for seven hours. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
A white rose rests on the grave of Cooper Harris at the Tuscaloosa Memorial Park Cemetery on Saturday, June 28, 2014, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Flowers cover the grave of Cooper Harris at the Tuscaloosa Memorial Park Cemetery on Saturday, June 28, 2014, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Family and friends walk past security as they attend a funeral service for Cooper Harris at the University Church of Christ on Saturday, June 28, 2014, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Cooper Harris, 22 months old, died in Georgia on June 18 after he was left in his fathers' SUV for seven hours. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Cobb County Magistrate Court Judge Frank R. Cox listens to testimony during the bond hearing for Justin Ross Harris, the father of a toddler who died after police say he was left in a hot car for about seven hours, Thursday, July 3, 2014, in Marietta, Ga. (AP Photo/Marietta Daily Journal, Kelly J. Huff, Pool)
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"I believe justice was served today on behalf of young Cooper Harris," Cobb County District Attorney Vic Reynolds said in a statement after the verdicts were read.

Defense lawyers did not immediately comment.

During the five-week trial, prosecutors argued the father intentionally allowed his child to suffer so Harris could be free of his marriage and fatherhood and continue to pursue extramarital affairs.

Phone and internet records showed Harris was sending explicit messages for much of the day while his son was dying inside the hot car.

The defense countered that the death was accidental, saying Harris was a flawed man who simply forgot his son was in the car.

The boy's mother, who divorced Harris after Cooper's death, testified that though her ex-husband "ruined her life," she believed he would never have tried to harm their child.

Harris remained stoic as the verdicts were read on Monday. During the trial, he wept many times at the defense table, particularly when pictures of his dead son were shown to the jury.

The trial was held in Brunswick, Georgia, some 300 miles (500 km) from suburban Atlanta, after the court failed to seat an impartial jury last spring. The sentencing proceedings will take place back in Cobb County, prosecutors said.

(Reporting by Rich McKay; Writing by Letitia Stein and Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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