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Georgia man arrested, charged in murder of 8-year-old in 1988

Henri Hollis, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in News & Features

ATLANTA — After 33 years, an arrest has been made in the murder of 8-year-old Joshua Harmon, who was found dead in the woods near the apartment complex where his family lived in suburban Roswell.

James Michael Coates, 56, of Woodstock, was taken into custody Wednesday during a traffic stop as he rode in an Uber, Roswell police Chief James Conroy said during a news conference Friday. Prior to Coates’ arrest, Roswell police had obtained warrants for him on a litany of charges, including murder, aggravated assault, aggravated sodomy, aggravated child molestation and first-degree cruelty to children.

The case began in May 1988, when Harmon was reported missing by his parents when he did not come home for dinner, Roswell police said. Police searched for Harmon for about 48 hours before his body was found in the woods near the family’s apartment complex on Raintree Way. At the time, Coates was a resident of the same apartment complex, Conroy said.

Though detectives and GBI investigators collected “valuable evidence” at the time, the case went cold, Roswell police said. The evidence was reexamined regularly over the years as technology advanced. In February, Harmon’s body was exhumed. New evidence and additional funds from Georgia’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council allowed Roswell police to pursue DNA testing, which officials said linked Coates to the killing.

“The death of Josh and the fact that his killer remained free for such a long time is unimaginable,” Conroy said. “I hope this arrest brings a sense of closure.”

An officer who formerly worked on the case, Keith Howard, likened the arrest to a milestone life event like a wedding or the birth of a child.


“It’s very emotional,” said Howard, now a chief deputy with the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office. “It’s really hard to put into words. This case was about Joshua ... Everyone I spoke to who was involved in this case was passionate about solving it. Sherry (Joshua’s mother) was the catalyst for that.”

Coates has twice been convicted of child molestation, among other charges, for crimes that happened in 1990 and 1993, records show. Following his 1993 conviction, he was imprisoned for nearly 20 years, according to the Georgia Department of Corrections.

The investigation into Harmon’s death remains open, despite the arrest of Coates, police said. Anyone with further information is asked to contact Roswell police at 770-640-4100, or leave an anonymous tip with Crime Stoppers Greater Atlanta at 404-577-8477.


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