As jury takes the case, Ross Harris faces a century or more in prison


BRUNSWICK — Nearly two months after the prospective jurors assembled at the Glynn County courthouse to see who would serve on the Justin Ross Harris trial, the 12 selected will gather today to deliberate Harris’s fate.

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He faces eight charges in the death of his son, Cooper. Here is a brief description of each count in the indictment, with the sentence that offense carries. Harris, of course, may be found not guilty on all counts, convicted only of certain charges or convicted of all eight. In the case of the three murder charges, the law provides that the defendant may be sentenced to life without possibility of parole. Otherwise, he would serve a minimum term before he could be considered for parole.

1. Malice murder. This is Georgia’s equivalent of “first-degree murder” (although Georgia law has no such charge). It asserts intent. The indictment charges that Harris “did unlawfully and with malice aforethought cause the death of Cooper Harris.”

Sentence: Life (minimum 30 years)

2. Felony murder, count one. In felony murder, the defendant causes the death of another during the commission of a felony. In count one charged against Harris, the “underlying” felony was cruelty to children in the first degree.

Sentence: Life (minimum 30 years)

3. Felony murder, count two. In count two, the underlying felony was cruelty to children in the second degree.

Sentence: Life (minimum 30 years)

4. First-degree cruelty to children goes to intent; i.e., the defendant meant to inflict harm. The indictment says Harris “did maliciously cause Cooper … cruel and excessive physical pain.”

Sentence: 5 to 20 years

5. Second-degree cruelty to children. This charge is not concerned with intent; it goes more toward what the defendant failed to do and the consequences of that failure. The state alleges that Harris “did, with criminal negligence, cause Cooper Harris … cruel and excessive physical pain.”

Sentence: 1 to 10 years

6. Sexual exploitation of children, relating to Harris’s attempts to persuade a minor female to provide him images of “her genital and pubic area.”

Sentence: 1 to 10 years

7. Dissemination of harmful material to minors, count one (misdemeanor). The first relates to texts Harris sent to a minor female containing “explicit and detailed verbal descriptions and narrative accounts of sexual excitement and sexual conduct.”

Sentence: up to 1 year

8. Dissemination of harmful material to minors, count two (misdemeanor). The second involves Harris’ sending images of his erect penis to minor females.

Sentence: up to 1 year

The jury is expected to begin its deliberations this morning. Initially, the judge said court would only meet for a half-day today, to give jurors a chance to vote this afternoon. On Monday, however, she left open the option of giving the jurors time to vote during a long lunch break, and then having them come back to resume deliberations.


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