Ga. Toddler's Hot Car Death: Why Is Dad Charged With Murder?

By Daniel Taylor, Esq. on June 26, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The father of a Georgia toddler who died after being left in a hot car for seven hours is being charged with felony murder.

After finding evidence that the child's death was not an accident as 33-year-old Justin Ross Harris had claimed, police arrested Harris and charged him with second degree cruelty to a child, along with murder under the "felony murder" rule.

What is the felony murder rule, and how is it being applied in this case?

Georgia's 'Felony Murder' Rule

Many states adhere to a rule known as the felony murder rule. In general, this allows any homicide committed during the commission of a violent felony to be charged as first degree murder.

But under Georgia law, there are no degrees of murder, only murder (punishable by life in prison or death) and manslaughter. Any death, irrespective of malice, that results from the commission of a felony is considered murder.

Second degree cruelty to a child is a felony in Georgia. Because police believe the child died as a result of Harris' cruelty, the charge of felony murder would be applicable.

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Criminal Warrant Released

A look at the criminal warrant issued by the Cobb County Magistrate Court shows what led to Harris' arrest. According to the warrant, Harris parked his vehicle at his place of employment with his son strapped into a child seat in the rear seat of the car, and then went to work for the day.

Harris then returned to the car at lunch, opening the door and placing an object in the vehicle before shutting the door and returning to work, while his child remained strapped in the back seat, the warrant states.

It wasn't until 4:14 p.m. when Harris, who had by then left work, told authorities he discovered his son was in the vehicle and pulled into a shopping center to ask for help.

A statement released Wednesday by the Cobb County Police Department asks the public to "not make conclusions based on rumor or suspicion" and promises that additional information will be released as the investigation moves forward.

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