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Why Ross Harris will stay in prison | Lawyer explains reversal of murder conviction in boy's hot car death

Attorney Page Pate spoke with 11Alive after the Georgia Supreme Court announced its decision on Wednesday.

ATLANTA — On Thursday, May 25, the Cobb County District Attorney's Office said they would not attempt to re-try Ross Harris in connection to the death of his son, Cooper. 

It comes nearly a year after Georgia Supreme Court decided to reverse the murder conviction for Harris last June, closing the book on a nearly decade-long quest for justice in the death of Harris' son, Cooper.  

Last June, the state's highest court said its decision to reverse the murder conviction wasn't made because it felt he hadn't committed murder - it said, basically, the case had been improperly tried by the Cobb County District Attorney at the time.

That's because the Cobb DA essentially tried two cases at once - and shouldn't have, at least according to the Georgia Supreme Court.

RELATED: Ga. Supreme Court reverses Ross Harris' murder conviction in son's 2014 hot car death

In addition to being convicted for his son Cooper's death in 2014, Harris was also convicted of sex crimes for sending sexually explicit communications to underage girls.

The Court's opinion said the basic fact that Harris was responsible for his son Cooper's death was "undisputed" but said much of the evidence presented in court for the murder case really was only relevant to the sex crimes case, and "did little if anything to answer the key question of (Harris') intent when he walked away from Cooper."

"The big problem is they took two cases and brought them together in one trial," explained 11Alive legal analyst Page Pate. "The charges involving the death of Cooper - obviously those were the murder charges, cruelty to children charges. And then they had these unrelated charges relating to Harris’ communications, mostly text messages, to an underage female that were very sexual in nature.

Credit: 11Alive
Cooper Harris

"They brought those two charges together in one trial, and the Supreme Court said, 'Wait a minute.' All of that evidence relating to his texting these underage girls should not have been considered by the jury when they're deciding the murder case and it was unfairly prejudicial – it made Harris look like a bad guy, and obviously he was, the jury convicted him on the sex crime charges, but they should not have had that evidence bleed  over into the murder case.

"Only the texts and messages he was sending on the day Cooper died should have been relevant and should have been admitted at trial. That’s what the state Supreme Court said."

But Harris will remain in jail. As part of his sentencing, he received 12 years in prison for those communications - that conviction remains in place, and he will continue serving those 12 years.

Meanwhile, Pate explained that the Supreme Court's ruling allows for the current Cobb County District Attorney to re-try the case.

"The Supreme Court did find there was sufficient evidence of the murder charges, so that’s why they can re-try him again. There was sufficient evidence if you take away all of the information about the underage females, the sex crimes," Pate said. "I think in this case the Cobb County DA will go back and re-try him on those murder charges."

He said that decision could be made "probably within the next few months."

Then, he would face a second murder trial as he continues to serve his prison time on the sex crimes conviction, Pate said.

Editor's note: This story includes previous analysis from 11Alive's former legal expert, Page Pate, who died unexpectedly last September


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