Alabama grandmother Joyce Hardin Garrard was sentenced to life in prison Monday for forcing her granddaughter to run to death.
On Feb. 17, 2012, Garrard’s granddaughter, Savannah Hardin, 9, came home from school. Garrard told Hardin’s bus driver, Raenna Holmes, that Hardin was in trouble for lying about candy she had stolen from a classmate.
As punishment, Garrard made her granddaughter run non-stop for more than three hours, sometimes while carrying firewood sticks.
Witnesses watched with growing concern as Garrard forced Savannah to run while yelling at her in what they called a “hateful, hostile” tone.
“Keep running, I didn’t tell you to stop!” Garrard shouted to her granddaughter, according to court testimony.
Neighbors Chad and Jolie Jacobs said that they assumed Hardin was given breaks, but she wasn’t. By the time they tried to intervene, around 6:30 p.m., Hardin was crying and had collapsed outside her rural home where she began vomiting.
Even as Hardin vomited, her grandmother yelled, “Get up! I better not have to tell you again!”
Hardin suffered a seizure and became unconscious, at which point, Hardin’s stepmother, Jessica Hardin, called 911. Medics arrived and took Savannah to a hospital, where she died several days later after doctors took her off life support. An autopsy ruled that she died from extreme physical exertion.
Garrard told investigators that she hadn’t meant to harm Savannah and claimed that she was coaching the girl because she wanted to become a faster runner, according to police testimony.
Both Chad and Jolie expressed regret while giving their witness accounts.
“I wish I had done something a lot sooner,” Jolie said.
Savannah’s stepmother, Jessica, was also deemed responsible for the child’s death because she failed to intervene. She also had lied to the dispatcher after the girl fell unconscious and said that her stepdaughter had fallen off a step. Jessica was charged with murder and is awaiting a trial for which she plans to plead not guilty.
Garrard was convicted of capital murder in March and could have faced the death penalty. The judge chose to sentence her to life in prison instead.
"We talk about the death penalty, but life inside of Julia Tutwiler Prison ... until the point in time when you cease to exist, is a death sentence to me," said District Attorney Jimmie Harp, following the hearing.
Garrard's defense attorney, Dani Bone, said that he planned to appeal the conviction.