MIAMI (AFP) - A US man has been charged with murdering his nearly two-year-old son by leaving him in a hot car for seven hours and could face the death penalty if convicted.
Justin Ross Harris, 33, was denied bond on Thursday and faces child cruelty and felony murder charges after leaving his son Cooper, 22 months, strapped to a car seat in his sports utility vehicle while he was at work in the southern state of Georgia.
"This is a possible death penalty case," Judge Frank Cox said at the close of a protracted hearing at the Cobb County Magistrate Court outside Atlanta.
Underlining the massive interest in the United States and its shocking revelations, the hearing was broadcast live on US networks.
Harris says he forgot to drop his son off at daycare and didn't realise he had left him in the car until driving for a few minutes after work, stopping and calling for help once he noticed Cooper's lifeless little body in the backseat.
Cox countered it was inexplicable "for him to enter the car... when the child had been dead and rigor mortis had set in, and the testimony is the stench in the car was overwhelming at that point in time, that he - in spite of that - got in the car and drove it for some distance before he took any action to check on the welfare of his child."
And in an unexpected twist to the case, a police detective said Harris had texted sexually explicit messages at work with six women, one of them as young as 17, while his son was baking to his death in the car.
In the days before June 18, it emerged Harris had made Internet searches about life without children and how to survive prison, and watched videos of animals dying in cars in the sun.
The detective said both Harris and his wife Leanna had no reaction when they learned their child had died.
But several witnesses said Harris was a doting father.
"He was a loving father, he loved his son very much," said Harris's brother Randy Michael Baygents Jr, a police sergeant in neighbouring Alabama.
Harris, dressed in an orange jumpsuit, sat emotionless until the end of the three-hour hearing, when he broke down in tears.
He will remain detained pending trial.