AN Alabama grandmother who forced her nine-year-old granddaughter to run for hours after school until she collapsed and died has been sentenced to spend the rest of her life in prison.
Joyce Hardin Garrard, the diminutive grandmother whom prosecutors depicted as the "drill sergeant from hell," stood before the judge, and told him if she could have anything in the world, it would be to have her granddaughter Savannah back with her today.
Garrard gripped the hand of her defence attorney as Etowah County Circuit Judge Billy Ogletree said he would uphold a jury's recommendation of life without parole, rather than death by lethal injection.
Prosecutors said Garrard forced Savannah Hardin to run for hours after Garrard became enraged over the child's lie.
A jury convicted Garrard of capital murder in March and recommended the life sentence over death by a 7-5 vote.
"We accept the recommendation that the jury made," district attorney Jimmie Harp told Judge Ogletree.
Outside the courtroom after the sentencing, Garrad's husband, Johnny Garrard, said he was outraged by the verdict because his wife wasn't guilty.
"It's wrong. It's plain wrong. I know what happened that day. And what they say happened, is not what happened," he said.
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.
Prosecutors depicted Garrard as a woman who became so enraged that she made the child run until she dropped. 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.
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."
Investigators said an autopsy revealed the girl was severely dehydrated and compared her condition to that of an athlete who ran a marathon without drinking any water.
The child's stepmother, Jessica Mae Hardin, is charged with murder and awaiting a separate trial. (© Independent News Service)
Independent News Service