- Associated Press - Saturday, April 9, 2016

ATLANTA (AP) - Jury selection is set to begin Monday in the trial of a Georgia man accused of intentionally leaving his toddler son in a hot SUV to die.

Justin Ross Harris, 35, faces charges in the June 18, 2014 death of his 22-month-old son, Cooper. Police have said the boy died after he was left in an SUV for about seven hours on a day when temperatures in the Atlanta area reached at least into the high 80s. Harris was arrested that day and has been in jail ever since.

The medical examiner’s office has said Cooper died of hyperthermia - essentially overheating - and called his death a homicide.

Harris was indicted in September 2014 on multiple charges, including malice murder, felony murder and cruelty to children. That indictment also includes charges related to sexually explicit exchanges prosecutors say Harris had with an underage girl. Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty.

Harris is a native of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and moved to Georgia in 2012 to work for Home Depot.



Here are some things to know as his trial gets underway:

WHAT PROSECUTORS SAY HAPPENED

Prosecutors say Harris was unhappy in his marriage, was pursuing online and in-person romantic relationships with other women and had researched websites promoting a child-free lifestyle. Cobb County police Detective Phil Stoddard testified during a hearing in 2014 that Harris was essentially leading a double life and wanted to be free to pursue other relationships. Prosecutors say Harris intentionally left his son in the hot SUV to die.

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WHAT HARRIS SAID HAPPENED

Harris told police that on the day of his son’s death, the two had watched cartoons together in bed before going to a Chick-fil-A restaurant for breakfast. Harris told police he always kissed his son as he fastened him in his car seat to let him know his dad loved him.

Harris told police he forgot to drop the boy off at day care, instead driving straight to work, and didn’t remember Cooper was in the back until he was driving to meet friends for a movie after work.

Harris’ attorneys have called the boy’s death a tragic accident.

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CHARGES FOR SEXUALLY EXPLICIT MESSAGES

Prosecutors say Harris was exchanging lewd messages and sexually explicit photos with several women, including a minor, while at work as his son sweltered in the hot SUV.

Harris’ attorneys dispute those allegations but have said that even if they’re true, that doesn’t amount to a motive for murder or prove that Harris wanted his son dead. They tried to get Cobb County Superior Court Judge Mary Staley to try those charges separately and not allow that evidence during the trial, but she denied their requests.

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PUBLICITY SURROUNDING THE CASE

The case has attracted enormous attention from the moment of Harris’ arrest. While there was initially an outpouring of support for Harris and his family online, public opinion seemed to turn against him following the dramatic, three-hour probable cause hearing two weeks later.

Harris’ attorneys have said some of the media coverage has been sensationalist and misleading and has essentially shifted the burden of proof, making it so Harris has to prove his innocence rather than the prosecution having to prove his guilt. They tried to have the news media barred from pretrial proceedings, but the judge denied the request.

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HARRIS’ WIFE

Harris’ wife filed for divorce in February and it was recently granted. She has reverted to using her maiden name, Leanna Taylor. She has hired a criminal defense attorney but faces no charges in the case.

Taylor has consistently said she doesn’t blame Harris for Cooper’s death. In a victim impact statement she sent to prosecutors in the summer of 2014, she insisted her husband was a loving father who would never have intentionally harmed their son.

Prosecutors have said they may call her to testify, according to her attorney, Lawrence Zimmerman.

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