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Prosecutors to lay out case against dad of tot who died in hot car

  • Justin Ross Harris has pleaded not guilty to murder and second-degree child cruelty
  • Police say he left his toddler in a hot car for hours
  • Here's what to expect when he heads to court Thursday
Prosecutors to lay out case against dad of tot who died in hot car

Hear the words spoken by dead toddler's mom

Hear the words spoken by dead toddler's mom

HLN will bring you live coverage of Justin Ross Harris' court hearing on Thursday starting at 1:30 p.m. ET.

The Georgia father whose 22-month-old son died after being left in a hot car for hours last month will head to court on Thursday for a preliminary hearing in his case.

Justin Ross Harris is currently behind bars, facing charges of second-degree cruelty to a child and felony murder. He has pleaded not guilty.

Harris said he forgot to drop his toddler, Cooper, off at day care, accidentally leaving the boy strapped in his car seat while he went to work.

Read more: The Cooper Harris case: Your biggest questions

Here's what to expect from Thursday's hearing, as explained by criminal defense attorney Philip Holloway (who works in the same county where Harris faces charges):

  • This is a preliminary hearing, which is usually called a "probable cause" hearing.
  • The burden of proof will be on the prosecutors. It's their responsibility to prove to a judge that a crime was probably committed in this case and that the person who likely committed that crime was Harris.
  • Hearsay (or information that someone gets from someone else and can't substantiate themselves) will be allowed.
  • There will not be a jury present but, instead, a magistrate judge. This judge will not end up being the trial judge (a Superior Court judge will be assigned later if the case goes to trial).
  • The judge will hear testimony from a police officer (usually the lead investigator in the case), who is expected to be the prosecution's only witness.
  • That witness will be subject to cross-examination by the defense team.
  • If the judge decides that the prosecution has met its burden, then he or she will permit the case to proceed to a grand jury.
  • The grand jury may be asked by the district attorney to return an indictment -- or the ultimate charging document -- with the same charges Harris currently faces or with different charges (the warrants in the case right now are preliminary charging documents only -- the indictment will replace them).
  • The issue of bail is also expected to be addressed at this hearing (Harris is currently behind bars without bail).
  • While the defense isn't expected to call any witnesses on the issue of probable cause, they may choose to call some character witnesses to make an argument as to why Harris should be released on bond.


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