COBB COUNTY, Ga. — Attorneys from both sides of the Ross Harris trial are sounding off on the district attorney’s decision not to retry the Georgia father.
Harris was charged with intentionally leaving his 2-year-old son in a hot car to die in 2014.
Jesse Evans is now a police chief, but in 2016 he was the ranking prosecutor in the Ross Harris trial. He said he’s stunned to learn that the district attorney’s office where he used to work has now decided not to retry Harris for his son’s murder.
The current D.A., Flynn Broady, was elected after the trial. Evans said Broady’s decision ranks as one of the biggest professional disappointments in a long career involving hundreds of homicides.
“My heart broke,” Evans said. “I’m stunned. I’m shocked. There’s nothing in the Supreme Court decision that said the prosecution could not go forward. It’s just a shocking miscarriage of justice that the decision would be made to dismiss the charges.”
Evans said he was not consulted in the decision.
A member of the defense team seems to suggest that the D.A.’s office did the right thing. Carlos Rodriguez said that as a member of Harris’ defense team at trial, if necessary, he and lead attorney Maddox Kilgore were prepared to retry charges of malice murder, and cruelty to children. Those charges are now dismissed as a result of the D.A.’s decision.
“Ross is innocent,” Rodriguez said. “He’s a loving father. He forgot Cooper was in the car. It was unintentional. It was an accident, not a crime.”
The Supreme Court decision let stand convictions against Harris for sex offenses involving a teenage girl. The prosecution argued that several extramarital affairs were a motive in Cooper’s death.
Rodriguez said that’s not true.
“He may have been a bad husband but he is not guilty of murder, and this dismissal certainly confirms that for us,” Rodriguez.
The D.A.’s office said that crucial motive evidence that was admitted at the first trial is no longer available to the state due to the Supreme Court’s decision.
“This case is not reliant solely on the motive evidence,” Evans said. “This man murdered his child, and you can prove that case just as I sit here and I speak with you. Just as we could prove it back in 2016.”
Evans said the prosecution argued that Harris wanted to be free to further his sexual relationship with women he met online. The Supreme Court decision suggested that the large volume of sex evidence at the trial painted Harris in such a bad light it may have unfairly affected the murder part of the case.
Evans said the case could have been retried with less of it.
“It’s hard not to get emotionally invested in Cooper’s life and Cooper’s death, and I think it’s a sad day that there isn’t going to be accountability for what happened to him,” Evans said.
Rodriguez says T. Bryan Lumpkin, a third member of the original Ross Harris trial defense team, has also been part of the meetings with the Cobb D.A.’s office over the past 11 months as it studied whether to retry Harris. Rodriquez says the defense mainly met with D.A. Flynn Broady’s chief deputy assistant. He said the office has exceptionally excellent attorneys.
A text from Broady to WInne said, “Our office fought long and hard to maintain the conviction for Cooper’s death.”
Rodriguez said the dismissal of the murder charges restored Cooper’s legacy and that Cooper was very loved by his father.
“Cooper Harris will not get justice based on the decision that was made here, and that’s a very sad day within the criminal justice system,” Evans said.
Rodriguez said that if the defense needed retail to prove Harris would be exonerated in Cooper’s death, they were ready to go. But yesterday’s exoneration was just the same.
Evans said that now that he is Acworth Police chief, he has a better sense of what the police did in this case to seek justice for Cooper.
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