Stiff sentence awaits Ross Harris, but case may be far from over

In a case filled with dramatic twists and unforeseen turns, today’s sentencing hearing for convicted killer Justin Ross Harris is expected to proceed without any big surprises.

Harris, 36, is to be sentenced in Cobb County Superior Court at 1:30 p.m. today.

Found guilty of intentionally leaving his 22-month-old son Cooper inside a hot car to die, Harris faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole plus 42 years. And he’s likely to get it, or something very close, based on the heinous nature of the June 2014 crime and the criteria Judge Mary Staley Clark will follow to arrive at a decision.

Input from jurors. Staley Clark said she would discuss sentencing with each of the 12 Glynn County jurors who decided Harris’ fate. Though they declined interview requests, the six-man, six-woman panel told the prosecution team in a post-verdict meeting that, from the outset of their deliberations, there was near-unanimity that Harris was guilty.

Defense co-counsel Bryan Lumpkin confirmed as much in an exclusive interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on the day after the verdict.

“There was not that sense of the gravity of having convicted someone of such a horrible crime,” Lumpkin said. One juror appeared conflicted, he said, but for “the rest of them (it) was just like a mix and mingle, basically. That was really bothersome.”

Mitigating circumstances. A troubled upbringing. Drug or alcohol addiction. Genuine remorse. These are common mitigating circumstances a judge might consider that could lead to a more lenient sentence. None are applicable here, however, and Harris’ defense team has indicated they will introduce little to no evidence at the hearing.

What the state recommends. Cobb District Attorney Vic Reynolds’ decision not to seek the death penalty for Harris was roundly criticized in the public arena, particularly in light of the agonizing death suffered by little Cooper. “Leave him in a HOT jail cell for life” tweeted one person following Reynolds’ announcement in September 2014. Another took satisfaction in the thought that although the state will not seek the death penalty, “his prison mates will.”

The state hasn’t said what sentence they’ll suggest, but lead prosecutor Chuck Boring’s comments the day after the verdict spoke volumes.

“What do you do when you’ve got somebody that’s been proven guilty of intentionally cooking a child in a car?” he said.

Harris’ next home. The former Home Depot web developer is awaiting his sentence at the Cobb jail. It’s not yet known where he’ll serve his time — that decision will be made following an evaluation at Jackson State Prison after sentencing.

Only the beginning? Following Staley Clark’s decision on Monday, the defense will have 30 days to appeal. Lead defense attorney Maddox Kilgore has made it clear that he plans to pursue every legal avenue at his disposal to exonerate Harris.

“There were breakdowns in this process that occurred,” Kilgore said. “There were breakdowns in the investigation. There were breakdowns in the pre-trial phase, the motions phase. And there were breakdowns in the trial. It’s our belief those breakdowns affected the verdict.”

“We’re going to have our day before the Supreme Court of Georgia,” he said. “Hopefully at that juncture some of these breakdowns will come to light and we’ll have another chance at trial.”

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