Judge will let jurors see SUV where toddler died on hot day

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MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) — Jurors in the trial of a Georgia man accused of intentionally leaving his toddler son in a hot SUV to die will be allowed to see the Hyundai Tucson during the trial, a judge ruled Friday.

Justin Ross Harris faces charges including murder in the June 18, 2014, death of his 22-month-old son, Cooper. Police have said the boy died after spending about seven hours in the SUV on a day when Atlanta-area temperatures reached at least into the high 80s.

Prosecutor Chuck Boring said it's important for the jurors to be able "to look at the murder weapon." Defense attorney Maddox Kilgore argued against letting jurors see the vehicle, saying it amounts to creating evidence by inviting jurors to substitute their own view for that of Harris on the day his son died.

Cobb County Superior Court Judge Mary Staley Clark ruled that jurors may see the SUV but that another hearing would be needed to determine the conditions under which they will view it.

The ruling came during a hearing on pretrial motions, many of which involve the admissibility of evidence and testimony. The hearing was held in Cobb County Superior Court, just outside Atlanta. But the case is to move more than 300 miles to coastal Brunswick when jury selection begins Sept. 12.

After three weeks of jury selection in the spring, defense attorneys argued they couldn't get a fair trial in Cobb County, where the boy died, because of pretrial publicity. The judge agreed to relocate the trial.

Because the trial is being moved, prosecutors have dropped a request to allow jurors to visit any locations in Cobb County.

Staley Clark also ruled Monday that a psychologist who interviewed Harris for the defense will not be allowed to testify that he believes Harris didn't intentionally leave his child in the SUV.

Defense attorneys also sought to bar the prosecution from using three-dimensional computer animations that show an SUV like Harris' from different angles. At some points, the SUV is shown without a roof or windows.

The animations show the SUV in two different locations: the parking lot at Harris' office at Home Depot's headquarters and the parking lot where he stopped the car and took his son out. Harris told police he forgot to drop his son off at daycare the morning of the toddler's death and didn't notice that the child was still in his car seat until he was driving to meet friends for a movie after work.

The animation representing the office parking lot shows an adult male figure reaching into the front driver-side door of the vehicle. Police have said Harris bought lightbulbs at lunchtime and returned to his vehicle and tossed the bag inside.

Boring said the animations are not reenactments but are simply meant to show distance and spatial proximity at the crime scene. That's especially relevant since the jury won't be able to visit the crime scene, Boring said.

But Kilgore argued that the animations are not evidence but are instead creations meant to support the prosecution's theory of the case. They create a mental image that could lead the jury to believe Harris could see things that he wasn't actually able to see, Kilgore said.

The judge said she needed more time to consider the issue.

Kilgore also asked the judge not to let the jury see a mannequin that was made to look like Cooper Harris. The mannequin's eyes are wide open, which implies that Cooper was wide awake when he was left in the SUV, when there's no evidence to support that, Kilgore said. The judge rejected that defense request.

Harris is from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and moved to Georgia in 2012 to work for Home Depot.

He was indicted in September 2014 on multiple charges, including malice murder, felony murder and cruelty to children. That indictment also includes charges related to sexually explicit exchanges prosecutors say Harris had with an underage girl.

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