BRUNSWICK, Ga. - Cobb County Superior Court Judge Mary Staley Clark was sitting at her second courthouse trying to seat her second jury in the murder trial of Ross Harris, the Cobb County man is accused of leaving his toddler son in a hot car to die. It is a case which originally was supposed to go to trial in Cobb County in April of this year, but after three weeks of jury selection, the judge approved the defense's request to move the trial out of the county, eventually settling on the coastal city of Brunswick.
Nearly 300 miles from Cobb County, Judge Clark began the first day of the estimated two-week long jury selection just before 11:30 a.m. Monday.
Despite the long-distance relocation of the trial, most potential jurors questioned by the judge said they not only had heard about the case against Justin Ross Harris, but had also formed opinions about his guilt or innocence.
Harris, 35, is charged with murder in the June 2014 death of his 22-month-old son, Cooper, who was found dead in the back seat of a hot SUV. Nearly three weeks of efforts to find an impartial jury in Cobb County fell apart in May, with the judge agreeing to move the case because of pretrial publicity.
Superior Court Judge Mary Staley Clark reconvened the trial Monday in coastal Glynn County, where about 700 people were summoned to jury duty, with 311 of those potential jurors showing up. Two weeks have been set aside to seat a jury.
"It's not a case where you can pick a jury in one day or two," Clark said before adjourning for the evening Monday.
The judge began questioning the first group of 36 potential jurors Monday afternoon. Of those, 27 said they had previously seen news stories or other information about Harris' case. And 19 panelists, just over half, said they had expressed or formed an opinion about Harris' guilt or innocence.
However, when asked by the judge to stand if they were biased against Harris or did not feel "perfectly impartial" between prosecutors and defense attorneys in the case, all of the 36 possible jurors remained seated.
Meanwhile, the judge agreed to dismiss 13 people who claimed jury duty would cause them undue hardship — mostly panelists who complained of painful medical conditions or who had booked vacations that conflict with the trial and one who said his girlfriend was expecting a child any day now. There were 34 who asked to be excused.
Those who will remain in the pool for possible inclusion on the final jury include a father-to-be who said he expects his child to be born this week, a man whose daughter is getting married this weekend in Virginia, and a doctor who works in the emergency room of a rural hospital that typically has just one physician working every 12-hour shift.
The judge granted each of those possible jurors time to attend to affairs away from the courthouse. But they were all ordered to return before a final jury gets seated.
Harris, who moved to Georgia in 2012 from Alabama, is charged with murder. Prosecutors say he intentionally left his son to die at a time when Harris was unhappy in his marriage and looking for relationships with other women. Defense attorneys say the death was a tragic accident.