The Marietta man who is accused of leaving his toddler in a hot car to die is facing new charges that allege he exchanged sexually-explicit texts with three minors.
A Cobb County grand jury handed down the additional charges on Thursday, according to an article in the Marietta Daily Journal.
Justin Ross Harris was already facing criminal attempt to commit sexual exploitation and dissemination of harmful material to minors’ charges in connection to an alleged “sexting” incident with a minor, according to the MDJ article.
The new charges include two counts of sexual exploitation of children and six counts of dissemination of harmful material to minors – in connection with a similar incident where Harris allegedly had sexually explicit communications with three other under-age females in the months leading up to the death of his son, 22-month-old Cooper Harris. Cooper died on June 18, 2014.
Harris typically dropped Cooper off at day care, but that day he allegedly instead left him in a rear-facing car seat in the back of his SUV while he spent the day at work. He worked as a Web developer for Atlanta-based Home Depot.
The recent indictment, which stems from the initial investigation into Cooper’s death, is based on advances in electronic forensic analysis in conjunction with recent interviews of newly discovered victims, according to Cobb District Attorney Vic Reynolds, who released a statement Friday.
Thursday’s indictment brings the total number of girls Harris is accused of communicating with to four, the article reads.
Three of the charges claim Harris possessed a photo of one of the girls and also sent her explicit photos; another that he possessed a photo of another girl. The remaining charges allege Harris sent lewd messages and a photo to a third girl. The communications were said to take place from May to March of 2014.
The first charge of “sexting” in combination with the murder charge related to his son’s death came on Sept. 4, 2014.
He will be tried in a separate case with the new indictment, according to the article. The jury is scheduled to be selected April 11.
Reynolds told the MDJ that if prosecutors had delayed the indictment any further, the statute of limitations would have prevented prosecution on some of the charges.
Harris has been in jail since he was arrested for the death of his son. No other court dates in the case have been scheduled since a hearing on Feb. 22 in which Harris’ attorneys voiced their request to keep arguments regarding evidence of “bad character” closed to the public until a jury is selected. Harris’ attorneys argued in the hearing that details made public would create prejudice.
According to an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Harris’ attorney Maddox Kilgore said in a statement they’re concerned the timing on the new indictment is a calculated maneuver to inflame public opinion against him right before jury selection.
“After more than a 20-month investigation into every imaginable detail of Ross Harris’ life, this new indictment alleges no acts of cruelty, no deprivation, no abuse, nor any neglect of Cooper,” Kilgore reportedly said. “The content and timing of this indictment confirms the absence of such evidence, and it signals the state’s desperation to convict Ross of the worst mistake any of us as parents could make.”
CNN reported on Feb. 11 that Leanna Harris, Ross’ wife and the mother of Cooper, submitted divorce papers on January 20. The pair wed on May 27, 2006 and Leanna reportedly does not cite a specific reason for her desire to divorce her husband, saying only that the marriage is irretrievably broken.
Though the divorce paperwork says Leanna and Ross Harris separated “on or about” June 18, 2014, the day Cooper died; Leanna Harris defended her husband in the days after the toddler’s death, according to the CNN article.