MARIETTA, Ga. (Reuters) - Lawyers began picking jurors in the murder trial of a Georgia man charged with leaving his toddler son in a hot car for seven hours while he exchanged nude photos with women online.
The jury must decide if Justin Ross Harris, 35, forgot that his 22-month-old son Cooper was in the SUV that day in June 2014 or if he left the boy to die so he could live a child-free lifestyle.
Out of about 500 potential jurors summoned, only three had been interviewed individually by noon (1600 GMT) on Wednesday. Potential jurors were given a 17-page questionnaire to fill out posing such questions as how much they know about the case and those involved in it, and whether they themselves have ever left a child in a car.
Prosecutors estimate it could take two weeks or more to select the 12-member jury and a number of alternates, and that the high profile trial could last four or more weeks.
All three of the potential jurors quizzed by the lawyers on Wednesday morning said they had seen media coverage of Harris’ case, and all three said they have a bias toward thinking that the computer developer is guilty.
“I’m leaning one way, and it’s guilty,” said one potential juror, a substitute teacher and grandfather of five, whose identity was not made public. He said he had read about Harris’ extramarital affairs and thought that maybe he “wants to get rid of his wife, and the child was excess baggage.”
Ross sat solemnly in the courtroom, dressed in a white button down shirt and tie instead of the orange prison jumpsuit he has been seen wearing in most media images.
Prosecutors contend that he deliberately left his child in the hot car to die. Temperatures in the Atlanta area reached 92 degrees F (33 C) that day. Harris faces life in prison if convicted on felony murder and other charges.
Hours before the toddler died, prosecutors say, Harris sat in his suburban Atlanta office sending lewd messages to women online.
Defense attorneys say that Harris is a loving father who would never harm his son, and that he forgot to drive him to daycare and drove to work instead. The defense said prosecutors are trying to bias the jury against their client because of his moral failings in his marriage.
Leanna Taylor, Harris’s former wife, recently divorced him but she has told several media outlets that she believes he is innocent.
Reporting by Rich McKay; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Alan Crosby