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Justin Ross Harris indicted on 8 counts, hot car death is death penalty eligible

It has been a very long wait, for those waiting for progress on the case of Justin Ross Harris, and also for Ross Harris himself. Justin Ross Harris has been waiting in jail without bond since June 18 to see where the prosecution stands on the hot car death of his 22-month-old son, Cooper Harris, in Cobb County, Georgia. Today, both the public and Ross Harris are made aware of precisely where the prosecution stands. In what can only be considered a serious blow for the defense, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports Sept. 4 that Justin Ross Harris has been indicted on 8 counts, including malice murder the most serious criminal charge in Georgia. If Justin Ross Harris is found guilty of malice murder, he faces either life in prison or the death penalty.

Justin Ross Harris indicted on 8 counts, including malice murder and child exploitation, may face death penalty
Cobb County Sheriff's Office

It was a sweltering day in Cobb County, Georgia, on June 18, where local news outlets reported temperatures in the 90's. Accu-Weather for Atlanta and Marietta, Georgia, reported the actual local temperature on June 18 as 93 degrees Fahrenheit. But after 9 A.M. that morning, 22-month-old Cooper Harris would never get to feel those temps on his little face again.

Instead, after having breakfast with his father Ross Harris at the local Chick Fil-A, he felt those temperatures from inside the vehicle from the rear-facing infant car seat that he had been strapped into after breakfast. The Toronto Relationships Examiner has retraced the steps of Ross Harris that day. After leaving the Chick Fil-A that morning, Ross Harris went straight to work, instead of straight to the daycare facility that was expecting Cooper Harris that morning.

Cooper Harris never arrived to day care that morning, and would never see his friends or teachers at day care again. This is because his father left him strapped in his seat and in the car, as he went in to work. As the temperatures outside soared to 93 degrees, the temperatures inside the vehicle of Justin Ross Harris rose even more. Cooper Harris died of hyperthermia as a result, and Ross Harris would claim to not discover this until 7 hours later.

While many hot car deaths have occurred in North America since this event, this event has captured international attention. One of the reasons this has happened rests in the fact that at the probable cause hearing for Justin Ross Harris, Detective Phil Stoddard alleged that Ross Harris had been sexting multiple women while at the office that day. To make matters worse, one of the women Ross Harris was allegedly sexting was a minor.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution is reporting today that a grand jury has indicted Ross Harris on 8 different counts that address all of these events. Justin Ross Harris has been indicted on one count of malice murder, two counts of felony murder, cruelty to children in the first degree, cruelty to children in the second degree, criminal attempt to commit a felony regarding sexual exploitation of children, and two counts of dissemination of harmful material to minors.

Malice murder is among the most serious murder charge in Georgia, and indicates "malice", intent, and even alludes to premeditation. Title 16, Ch. 5, Art. 1 of the Georgia Criminal Code says malice murder occurs when,

"A person commits the offense of murder when he unlawfully and with malice aforethought, either express or implied, causes the death of another human being.

Or,

Express malice is that deliberate intention unlawfully to take the life of another human being which is manifested by external circumstances capable of proof. Malice shall be implied where no considerable provocation appears and where all of the circumstances of the killing show an abandoned and malignant heart.

Or, if a person also commits the offense of murder when, in the commission of a felony, he causes the death of another human being irrespective of malice."

This same section of the Georgia code also states the individual convicted of malice murder faces life in prison, or the death penalty. The state of Georgia is one of few states that does not have a first or second degree murder charge, thus making malice murder the most serious crime an individual can be charged with in Georgia. Additionally, having a sexual exploitation of children charge on record is also a very serious offense.

There is no way to put it other than this is a significant blow for the defense. There has been no announcement at the time of press as to when the Justin Ross Harris trial will begin, where he will face those charges.

One can't help but wonder what his wife and mother of Cooper Harris, Leanna Harris is thinking about this turn of events. Until now, she has been blaming the media and the public for the problems in her life, and even blamed the media for her loss of income since the death of her child.

She has not blamed her husband once for the death of their child, nor has she blamed him for the loss of income she has sustained since the death of Cooper Harris.

On July 17, 2014, District Attorney D. Victor Reynolds sent Leanna Harris a package, and gave her the opportunity to provide a Victim Impact Statement, a Victim Impact Restitution Form, and a Crime Victim's Compensation Application. That letter, along with the official indictment of Justin Ross Harris can be seen in the slideshow here.

As written by the D.A., the victim impact statement is an opportunity for Leanna Harris to,

"allow you to explain how the crime has affected and impacted you."

In that statement, Leanna stated she was the victim of this crime, and blamed the media for her loss of wages. We have previously reported on a copy of the Leanna Harris victim impact statement. But this was not the only item in this package she received, according to the letter sent to her by the District Attorney's office July 17, 2014.

Regarding the Victim Impact Restitution Form, the D. A. wrote,

"This form will give you the opportunity to explain how this crime has impacted you financially and assist our office in determining whether or not restitution should be requested if this case results in a conviction."

Here, Leanna Harris has been given an opportunity to seek restitution for the loss of wages she has incurred. To date she has not provided a Victim Impact Restitution to the D.A. office. The last anyone has heard about Leanna's loss of wages are that she blames the media for that.

Another application was given to Leanna, an application and an informational brochure. The D.A. said,

"As a victim of crime, you may be eligible to receive compensation for expenses incurred as a result of the crime. You may contact the Victim Witness Unit for assistance in completing this application, or you may mail the completed appolication with the requested documentation directly to the address listed."

Whether or not Leanna has filed for this compensation remains to be seen. By her most recent words publicly known on this case, she does not believe her husband to be a criminal. CNN reported today that a significant statement made by Leanna at the funeral of her child shows where Leanna's state of mind is on this crime,

"Ross is and was and will be, if we have more children, a wonderful father. Ross is a wonderful daddy and leader for our household. Cooper meant the world to him."

This suggests that Leanna does not believe her husband is a criminal. This was a statement made at Cooper's funeral in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Whether or not Leanna still stands by this statement remains to be seen, though she did identify her Self as a victim to the D.A.'s office on this case, and pointed fingers to the media as the perpetrator of her suffering.

How then can Leanna claim to be a victim in an impact statement, if she does not believe a crime has occurred? Are her only claims that she has become a victim of public scrutiny by the media?

That appears to be the case. If she is entitled restitution and compensation in this case if Ross is found guilty, she could be losing out on that by stubbornly sticking to this belief system that the only guilty party is the media.

Do you think Ross Harris is guilty of malice murder?