Uncategorized Alabama grandmother gets life in prison for running grandchild to death

Alabama grandmother gets life in prison for running grandchild to death

Joyce Hardin Garrard
Joyce Hardin Garrard

An Alabama woman convicted of running her nine-year-old granddaughter to death as punishment for lying about candy has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

On Monday Joyce Hardin Garrard, the diminutive grandmother described by prosecutors as the “drill sergeant from hell”, told the court that if she could have anything in the world, it would be to have her granddaughter Savannah back.

Garrard gripped the hand of her defense 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.

Garrard’s husband, Johnny, cradled another of the couple’s grandchildren as the sentence was read.

Prosecutors said Garrard forced nine-year-old Savannah Hardin to run for hours after school 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,” the Etowah county district attorney, Jimmie Harp, told Ogletree.

Outside the court Johnny Garrard said he was outraged because his wife was not guilty.

“It’s wrong. It’s plain wrong,” he said. “I know what happened that day. And what they say happened, is not what happened. It’s all just wrong.”

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 showed that Savannah collapsed and vomited in 2012 outside her rural home after running and carrying sticks all afternoon. She died several days later in a hospital after doctors removed her from life support.

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

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. Defense lawyers challenged the autopsy findings.

Prosecutors said Savannah suffered a painful death at the hands of a woman who was supposed to protect her, her grandmother.

“Life without parole in the state of Alabama means you come out of Julia Tutwiler prison in a pine box,” Harp said after the sentencing.

“We talk about the death penalty but life inside Julia Tutwiler prison … until the point she ceases to exist, is a death sentence to me. It’s just a question of when that death occurs,” Harp said.

A defense lawyer, Dani Bone, said he was pleased the judge and prosecutor agreed to uphold the jury’s recommendation of a life sentence, instead of the death penalty.

“Joyce handled this like a Christian woman with strong faith,” Bone said.

The child’s stepmother, Jessica Mae Hardin, is charged with murder and awaiting a separate trial.

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