Prosecutors seek death penalty after girl, 9, ran to death

Posted at 4:55 PM, Mar 13, 2012
and last updated 2012-03-13 16:55:21-04
From Rick Martin, CNN
(CNN) – Alabama prosecutors will seek the death penalty against a grandmother who authorities say forced her granddaughter to run as punishment for eating chocolate, an official said Tuesday.

Joyce Garrard, 46, is facing a capital murder charge in her granddaughter’s death, said Heather Rickles, a spokeswoman for the District Attorney’s Office in Etowah County, Alabama.

Authorities say Savannah Hardin died last month after her grandmother and stepmother forced her to run around the family’s house for three hours as punishment for lying about taking a chocolate candy bar.

A grand jury also indicted stepmother Jessica Mae Hardin, 27, on a felony murder charge, Rickles said. That means she will not face the death penalty if convicted.

Dani Bone, an attorney representing Garrard, told WBRC that the allegations were false.

“I think it makes for good newspapers, it makes for good television. It think it’s absolutely unfair to this family who again have lost a child, a grandchild and now they have two family members who were falsely accused and wrongly incarcerated,” Bone said.

Last month, attorneys for Hardin said she was devastated by her stepdaughter’s death, and urged the public to disregard rumors and assumptions.

“Unfortunately, whenever a child passes, our society wants to place blame, our media wants to sensationalize and our elected officials want to make grandiose statements that are not based on facts,” attorneys Morgan Cunningham and Vincent Pentecost said in a statement.

Authorities said the girl had a bladder condition that could have been worsened by eating the candy, according to WBRC.

“It is alleged that the grandmother was out in the yard with Savannah, and she was encouraging her with the words, ‘Move it! Move it! Move it!’ — much like a drill sergeant,” Natalie Barton, spokeswoman for the Etowah County Sheriff’s Office, told CNN last month.

At one point, prosecutors say Savannah was crawling, crying and begging to stop, CNN affiliate WBRC reported.

Barton told HLN’s Nancy Grace, “That young body simply could not take it. That is child abuse. (Garrard) overstepped (the) line.”

At about 6:45 p.m. that day, Hardin called 911 and said Savannah had suffered a seizure and was unresponsive, Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin said in a news release.

Savannah died last month at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham. A state pathologist ruled her death a homicide. “Preliminary reports show Savannah was extremely dehydrated and had a very low sodium level,” the release said.

Several people had seen the third-grade student at Carlisle Elementary School outside in her yard running, but at first they didn’t suspect anything, said Barton.

“In the initial reaction, who thinks that it’s a punishment when you see a 9-year-old out in the front yard running?” the spokeswoman said. “It was a beautiful day here that day, she was probably just simply outside playing.

“(Neighbors) didn’t start putting two-and-two together until they saw the medics arrive at the house.”

Marcus Reid, assistant district attorney in Etowah County, called Savannah’s death “one of the most serious cases we’ve ever had.”

“We’ve had too many children die because parents and stepparents and people responsible for them don’t do what they should do,” he said last month.

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