crimesider

Woman gets life sentence in granddaughter's running death

Joyce Hardin Garrard

AP

GADSDEN, Ala. - An Alabama woman convicted of running her 9-year-old granddaughter to death as punishment for lying about candy was sentenced Monday to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Joyce Hardin Garrard held hands with her defense lawyer as Etowah County Circuit Judge Billy Ogletree handed down the sentence. She told Ogletree that if she could change anything, it would be to have her granddaughter alive today.

A jury convicted Garrard of capital murder in March and recommended a sentence of life in prison. The judge could have given her the death penalty. Etowah County District Attorney Jimmie Harp told the judge Monday that prosecutors were satisfied with the jury's recommendation.

Testimony at trial showed that Savannah Hardin collapsed and vomited in 2012 outside her rural home following an afternoon of running and carrying sticks. She died several days later in a hospital after doctors removed her from life support.

A neighbor testified at the trial that he saw the girl running and carrying firewood and sticks over a two-hour period as he came and went from his home.

"Joyce and Savannah were in the yard, and Joyce was telling Savannah to keep running," said Chad Jacobs. "She was just saying, 'Keep running, I didn't tell you to stop.'"

Surveillance video from a school bus shown to a jury showed Garrard talking with the bus driver, Raenna Holmes, about Savannah taking candy without paying from another student who was selling it. Garrard told Holmes: "She's going to run until I tell her to stop."

Garrard denied that she meant to harm the child. She told investigators the girl wanted to run and get faster after finishing second in a race at school, according to police testimony.

The trial and other court documents portrayed Savannah as a sweet child who loved horses, cheerleading and the competition of running at school.