Juror questionnaire in hot SUV case seeks to ID juror bias
ATLANTA (AP) – A 17-page questionnaire filled out Tuesday by potential jurors for the trial of a Georgia man accused of intentionally leaving his toddler son in a hot SUV to die asks whether they have ever left a child in a hot car, how much they have seen about the case in the news media and their social media habits.
Justin Ross Harris, 35, 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 the temperature in the Atlanta area reached at least into the high 80s.
Jurors are set to be called in groups, beginning Wednesday morning, to answer more questions from the judge and the lawyers in the case as jury selection extends at least into next week. The questionnaire notes the case could last four to six weeks from the beginning of opening statements.
Prosecutors have painted Harris as a man unhappy and unfaithful in his marriage who wanted an escape. Defense attorneys have called the boy’s death a tragic mistake by a loving father who forgot to drop his son at day care on his way to work.
The questionnaire filled out by about 250 jurors was provided to the news media by the court.
Offering a glimpse of what may be the most difficult issue for many to handle during the trial, potential jurors were asked if they would be able to look at evidence, including photos and video, that have to do with a child’s death. The questionnaire also asks if they or someone they know has suffered the death of a child.
The questionnaire also asks potential jurors if they or someone they know has ever: forgotten and left an animal or a child somewhere; forgotten and left a child or animal in a car, even if only briefly; ever almost forgotten a child or animal in a car.
Potential jurors were also asked if they or someone they know has ever had a romantic or sexual relationship with someone they met online. Prosecutors say Harris exchanged sexually explicit messages and images with women he met online. Since at least one was alleged to have been under 18, the questionnaire asks about whether potential jurors can be fair and impartial given that the case involves allegations of inappropriate communications with a minor.
Given the intense coverage of the case by local and national media outlets, the questionnaire also seeks to determine how much the potential jurors know about the case. Having heard about details in the case is not enough to disqualify a potential juror, as long as the juror has not formed a fixed opinion about Harris’ guilt or innocence.
The questionnaire also asks whether the potential jurors believe they can be fair and impartial to both sides and whether they’ve ever expressed an opinion about the case either online or in casual conversation.
Probing more deeply, the questionnaire asks if they’ve ever visited certain locations specifically because of their link to the case, including: the Chick-fil-A restaurant where Harris and his son had breakfast the morning of Cooper’s death, the strip mall parking lot where Harris pulled his lifeless son from the SUV, Harris’ office and Cooper’s day care.
Harris is a native of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He moved to Georgia in 2012 to work for Home Depot.
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