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Father whose murder conviction was overturned in son’s hot-car death is released from prison and moved to jail

<i>John Bazemore/AP via CNN Newsource</i><br/>Defense attorney Maddox Kilgore holds a photo of Cooper Harris during Justin Ross Harris' murder trial in 2016.
John Bazemore/AP via CNN Newsource
Defense attorney Maddox Kilgore holds a photo of Cooper Harris during Justin Ross Harris' murder trial in 2016.

By Dave Alsup and Elizabeth Wolfe, CNN

Atlanta (CNN) — Justin Ross Harris, a Georgia father whose murder conviction for the hot-car death of his 22-month-old son was overturned by the state’s Supreme Court in 2022, has been released from prison, according to prison records.

Harris was released from Macon State Prison on Father’s Day – nearly 10 years to the day since his son, Cooper, died after his father left him strapped inside a car for seven hours on a hot day while he went to work – according to the Georgia Department of Corrections website.

The father was convicted of Cooper’s murder in 2016 after prosecutors convinced a jury Harris killed his son to escape the burdens of his marriage and fatherhood. But the life sentence was overturned in 2022 by the Georgia Supreme Court, which ruled 6-3 that evidence submitted by prosecutors of Harris’ extramarital relationships – which the state had portrayed as the motivation behind his alleged decision to kill his son – had an unfair prejudicial impact on the jury.

Though the murder charges were nullified, the court left in place three other counts relating to his electronic exchanges of lewd material with an underage girl.

Harris was sentenced to a total of 12 years on those three charges: 10 years for one count of attempt to commit sexual exploitation of a child, and one year each for two counts of dissemination of harmful material to a minor, according to the ruling.

Prison records state his maximum release date as June 18, 2024, on the sexual exploitation charge and marks his confinement status as “inactive.” After his release from prison Sunday, he was transferred to the Cobb County Adult Detention Center to serve the two additional years on the other charges, according to the Office of the Cobb County District Attorney.

Cooper’s death and his father’s trial captivated the nation, in part because hot-car death cases rarely lead to murder charges against grieving parents who insist leaving their child in a hot car was nothing more than a tragic accident.

After prosecutors announced last year they would not retry the murder case against Harris, his attorney said Harris was relieved and “thankful that today’s dismissal may begin to restore Cooper’s legacy as a child much loved by his parents.”

“Ross has always accepted the moral responsibility for Cooper’s death. But after all these years of investigation and review, this dismissal of charges confirms that Cooper’s death was unintentional and therefore not a crime,” attorney Carlos Rodriguez said in May 2023.

“Throughout the course of representing Ross, we have learned that these tragic accidents often happen while the child is in the care of a loving parent. Ross was no different,” Rodriguez said.

Cooper’s mother, Leanna Taylor, has stood by her belief that Harris did not intend to kill their child that sweltering day. She said after the Georgia Supreme Court ruling that she hoped it would change how their son is remembered.

“That he was wanted, that he was loved and that he is missed every single day,” she said in a statement released by her attorney.

While the trial revealed that on the day their son died, Harris exchanged sexual messages and photos with five women and a 16-year-old minor, Taylor maintained that Harris remained a loving father despite failing their marriage. The couple has since divorced.

“Ross was a loving and proud father to Cooper. At the same time Ross was being a terrible husband. These two things can and did exist at the same time.”

CNN’s Ray Sanchez contributed to this report.

Clarification: After Justin Ross Harris was released from prison, he was transferred to the Cobb County Adult Detention Center to serve his remaining two years for the dissemination of harmful material to a minor. The story and headline have been updated.

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