Harris, 33, of Marietta, has been charged with felony murder after police say he strapped his 22-month-old son in a hot car for at least seven hours, leading to the toddler’s death Wednesday.
Harris was charged with cruelty to children and, because the child was pronounced dead at the scene, with felony murder, according to Cobb District Attorney Vic Reynolds.
But the 6,354 who had signed the change.org petition as of Friday night disagree, calling the death a “horrible accident.”
“The father loved his son immensely,” reads the petition. “These were very loving parents who are devastated. Justin already has to live with a punishment worse than death.
“Sending what’s left of his family into bankruptcy to defend him against these charges is only bringing more hardship to a family that will never recover from the loss of a child. There is nothing to indicate that the father intentionally left his child in the car, so a charge of murder is not appropriate.”
Organizers set a goal of 5,000 signatures.
Several signees added their own comments, such as Brandon Cozart, who listed his address as College Station, Texas.
“I’ve known Ross for over 10 years and I can’t imagine what he’s going through right now,” Cozart wrote.
“What I do know is that he is a man of integrity with a gigantic heart and that he loves his family more than anything. This was a terrible, tragic accident, not a willful act with intent to harm Cooper. These charges are asinine.”
Sarah Mosley, of Mableton, was among many saying Harris will suffer enough without jail time.
“This is unjust,” she wrote. “There is no way to prove a motive in the short 20 hours that you took. This man’s life is destroyed. Charging him with murder for a tragic accident and ruining what’s left of his family is not just.”
People are also showing their support for Harris and his family by donating money online at yourcaring.com.
The page for the family, set up by a woman named Heather McCullar, had already raised more than $14,000 as of Friday night.
The description says all donations go directly to the family through a trust at the Alabama Credit Union.
Harris remains in Cobb jail without bond.
Although police have yet to release the child’s name, neighbors and social media websites appearing to belong to his parents confirm his name was Cooper Harris.
Reynolds said Thursday the charge of felony murder does not necessarily involve intent.
“Felony murder is where you commit a felony crime,” Reynolds said. “My goal may not have been to kill you, but the results of my actions caused the death.”
The petition signers weren’t the only ones surprised by the felony murder charge.
Tom Browning, a local attorney and chair of the Downtown Marietta Development Authority, said most of the lawyers he’s spoken with were caught off guard by the murder charge.
“I have never heard of a murder charge on something like that, on what I’d call a pure parental accident,” Browning said.
“This is a double tragedy, the boy that died and now the family’s grieving. I hope he can get out of jail and go to the funeral.”
Browning said he has not heard of a murder charge like this being brought forth without intent.
The maximum sentence for felony murder is life in prison. Reynolds said previously the investigation is in the early stages and the charges could change or, if the death is ruled to be purely accidental, there could be no charges.
Reynolds said the case will be handed to his office once police finish their investigation and he hopes it progresses “as expeditiously as possible.”
Anyone with information about the case is asked to call (770) 499-3945.
A link to the petition can be found at http://www.change.org/petitions/cobb-county-district-attorney-drop-murder-charges-against-justin-harris-for-son-s-accidental-death.
Those who wish to donate money to the family can do so at: http://www.youcaring.com/memorial-fundraiser/cooper-harris-memorial-fund/193175#sthash.jwu0Kp0j.dpuf.
— Emily Boorstein contributed to this article