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Georgia Supreme Court hears father's appeal in son's hot car death case

The defense wants messages with other women, evidence of his affairs and the conversations on the app to be excluded in new trial.

ATLANTA — Justin Ross Harris is seeking a new trial in the murder of his 22-month-old son, Cooper. The Cobb County man was convicted of intentionally leaving his toddler in the car to die in 2016.

Harris was convicted in 2017 in Glynn County after intense media coverage of the case forced the trial to be moved. On Tuesday, attorneys for Harris plead their case to the Georgia Supreme Court.

During the hearing, Chief Justice David Nahmias announced he tested positive for COVID-19, thus prompting the proceedings to be virtual. But that didn't slow down the questions on both sides about what happened at trial. 

"All of these pieces of evidence pile up to prove that he is a terrible person. And might I say, you did a remarkable job in proving that he is a terrible person. But being a terrible person does not mean that he murdered his child," said one justice.

Cobb County prosecutor Linda Dunikoski wasn't at Harris' trial in 2017, but on Tuesday she was at the proceeding and defended how the state handled the case against him. 

"He could get rid of his wife, get rid of his obligations to his family and get to the life he wanted to be living," she said. 

Harris' attorneys filed an appeal that focused on the messages he sent to other women, some of them underage girls. Some of those messages were also sent on the day Cooper died.

The panel repeatedly asked Dunikoski if those messages proved motive. 

"I am trying to figure out why you needed to mention the age of the women he was talking to? Why you brought up prostitution, which is a crime, and why you had to take the pictures, which were thumbnail pictures, and blow up the pictures, and present them to the jury," asked Nahmias.

The lewd picture message exchanged between Harris and the women were blown up to 8x11 poster boards for the jury to examine during their deliberations. 

The messages Harris sent about living a child-free lifestyle on the anonymous chat app Whisper were also called into question during the hearing with his appellate attorney defending him. 

"There was a sympathetic message where someone was frustrated and frazzled with their child and he responded, 'while I love my child and all, we all need escapes'," his attorney argued. 

What the defense wants is a new trial where those messages with other women, evidence of his affairs and the conversations on the app to be excluded. 

The state argued hard against the appeal Wednesday, but it will be up to the state Supreme Court. The high court will make its decision in the coming weeks. 

Harris is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. 

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