BRUNSWICK, Ga. -- A team of legal experts have gone over all of the evidence in the Ross Harris hot car death trial. They've taken a hard look at everything presented by the prosecution, led by Cobb County District Attorney Chuck Boring, and the defense, led by attorney Maddox Kilgore.
"Cruelty to children – definitely hands down; third degree, hands down, done. Second degree, hands down, done. First is a little more difficult. But I think they’re going to convict on that, which then makes it a felony murder conviction as well. He’s going to go to prison for years on end," said Meg Strickler, legal expert and criminal defense attorney.
Two of the counts he faces are malice murder and felony murder.
According to Georgia state law, malice murder is the intentional taking of a human life. In this case, what the jury has to find is that Harris intended to take his son's life in order to fulfill that definition. Felony murder is a death that occurs during the commission of a "inherently dangerous felony." The dangerous felony in this case, is tied to the cruelty to children charges.
The prosecution pointed out the double life led by Harris, which they said, was shown by his text messages to a number of under-aged women, along with the fact that he was so preoccupied with his sexting, that he simply neglected his son in the backseat, in less than the three minutes it took for him to drive from the Chick-fil-A restaurant to the Home Depot office complex.
The prosecution, however, showed that as a husband and father, Harris was not a model human being.
“They let you see the duplicitous Ross Harris,” LaTonia Hines, a prosecuting attorney, said about the case. "Harris is not a good guy, not a good husband, and definitely was not a good father on June 18, 2014.”
"They were able to prove that he was a horrible father, a horrible employee, a horrible husband," Strickler said.
Criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor Darryl Cohen agreed.
"Ross Harris is someone who destroyed his life? Who cares? But someone who destroyed the life of his 22-month-old son... Who lost? Cooper lost," Cohen said.
"Cooper will never be able to grow up to become a teenager, to become an adult. Ross Harris could not have forgotten – could not in three minutes and change and a text saying that he and his buddy needed to be free. Ross Harris demonized himself," he said.
"He was so distracted that he forgot his child," Joseph Scott Morgan, professor of applied science at Jacksonville State University, said. "He in fact did neglect his child. This is the height of maltreatment of a small child. Let’s also keep in mind he was also engaged in deviant sexual practices with underage people – a 15-year-old, he was texting illicit images to."
Psychotherapist and relationship expert Dr. Joyce Morley was even more circumspect regarding Harris' mental state.
"He could always remember what he wanted. He always remembered to go to Chick-fil-A. How does he have a child he loves? A parent who has a child he loves never forgets that child in the car. Ross Harris was narcissistic (and) compulsive in many ways. He had a borderline personality disorder, and he was having psychological problems that just didn’t develop – he brought them into the marriage," she said.
"There is no real winner here."
The defense may have created enough of a shadow of a doubt in the minds of the jury, according to divorce and family attorney Randy Kessler.
"Yes he did it, yes he was responsible, but was it a criminal act? Did he really mean to do it? It’s very, very hard to convince anybody that they would really kill their child intentionally," Kessler said. "The defense gets the benefit of being on the right side of the burden of proof. They have the easier side, they just have to poke holes in the prosecution’s case – I think they did it.”
Criminal defense attorney and consultant Charles Mittelstadt agreed.
"The child cruelty aspect is a very difficult case – the sheer magnitude of the evidence that was presented with regard to Ross Harris’ absolute distraction and lack of focus on his child particularly on the day of this tragic event, may demonstrate to the jury that he was negligent, and they may not follow the exact letter of the law in terms of exactly what that means," he said.
"It may come down to them doing a compromise verdict where they don’t feel that they don’t feel that the prosecution has proven their case with regard to malice, but they feel that Ross Harris should be held responsible."
11Alive's Vinnie Politan pointed out that Harris' life was completely out of control.
"His life was spiraling out of control. It was clear he was obsessed with women – obsessed with sexting, and he wanted to sleep with as many women as possible in his lifetime – his own words," Politan said. "He is acting reckless -- and if you're acting reckless, you're guilty of criminal negligence. That negligence at the moment he strapped little Cooper into that car seat -- that is the negligence that caused the death of little Cooper. And because of that, I say the defense wins on Malice Murder because he didn't do it on purpose -- he was distracted by this lifestyle he was trying to lead. But it is that same lifestyle that makes him guilty of felony murder."
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