2014 Archives

In Atlanta, some dispute murder charge against father in hot-car death of boy


The following is from the June 26, 2014, edition of The New York Times. Professor Jennifer Collins, who will become dean of SMU's Dedman School of Law on July 1, provided expertise for this story.

June 30, 2014


ATLANTA — The legal drama that has gripped this city for more than a week comes down to whether a 2011 Hyundai Tucson should be considered the scene of a crime or of a horrible mistake.

To the authorities in suburban Cobb County, the vehicle is the place where Justin Ross Harris murdered his 22-month-old son, Cooper, by leaving him in a rear-facing car seat for about seven hours on a warm Southern day. . .

Jennifer Collins, a former homicide prosecutor who is the incoming dean of the law school at Southern Methodist University, said it was not surprising that the case yielded headlines.

“In some ways, you can’t take your eyes away from it because it strikes at your most primal fear as a parent,” said Professor Collins, who conducted a 2006 study that found that most parents who were prosecuted in so-called hot-car cases were convicted. She said it was unusual — although not unprecedented — for the authorities to file a murder charge in connection with such a case.

The debate is poised to continue as Mr. Harris, who is being held without bail, awaits his next court appearance, set for next month.

Read the full story.

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