Alabama Woman Sentenced for Running Granddaughter to Death

Silhouette of athletic girl running down the road to a sunsetAn Alabama grandmother was sentenced May 11 to life without possibility of parole for running her granddaughter to death outside her rural home. Nine-year-old Savannah Hardin had apparently told a lie about eating candy.

During the trial earlier this year, prosecutors showed video of Joyce Hardin Garrard telling her granddaughter’s school bus driver that “She’s going to run until I tell her to stop.”

For most runners, the negative effects are confined to blisters, tendonitis or at worst a broken bone (the feet have about 25% of the total number of bones in the body). But witnesses said that Garrard forced Hardin to keep running until she vomited and collapsed. She died a few days later in a Birmingham hospital after being removed from life support.

Garrard has maintained that she didn’t force the child to keep running, and that Hardin had wanted to practice running to improve her speed after finishing second in a school race. But two experts told the court that Hardin died from extreme physical exertion.

The jury that convicted Garrard of capital murder in March recommended that she be sentenced to life in prison, rather than receiving the death penalty, by a 7-5 vote. Etowah County Judge Billy Ogletree upheld that decision, with most parties in the case agreeing it was the right choice.

“Life without parole in the state of Alabama means you come out of Julia Tutwiler prison in a pine box,” District Attorney Jimmie Harp said following the sentencing. “It’s just a question of when that death occurs.”

Dani Bone, a lawyer for the defense, praised Garrard as a woman of strong Christian faith for how she has handled the proceedings.

But Johnny Garrard, Joyce’s husband, said outside the courtroom that the court had gotten the entire case wrong. “It’s wrong. It’s plain wrong. I know what happened that day. And what they say happened is not what happened. It’s all just wrong,” he said.

The girl’s stepmother, Jessica Mae Hardin, has also been charged with murder. She is currently awaiting her trial, which will probably take place next year.

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