GADSDEN, Ala. – Jurors will get to hear testimony by medical workers who treated a 9-year-old Alabama girl who officials say was forced by her grandmother to run as punishment until she collapsed and died, a judge ruled Monday.
Circuit Judge William Ogletree refused to place broad limits on what emergency responders and hospital workers could say about the way they cared for Savannah Hardin.
The ruling came as lawyers prepare for the capital murder trial of the child's grandmother, Joyce Garrard. The 49-year-old woman is set to go on trial in September, more than 2½ years after the girl's death.
Medical testimony about the child's death will be crucial to the case. While prosecutors contend Garrard caused the girl's death by forcing her to run for hours for a lie about eating candy, the defense claims the girl had previous health problems that led to her death.
Defense lawyers wanted to bar medical workers from giving any opinions about what happened to the child or at least force the state to reveal the testimony in advance.
"We should be provided a summary of what these opinions might be," argued Garrard attorney Dani Bone.
But prosecutors said the defense was asking for restrictions far tighter than the law allows.
"To say no fact witnesses can give opinion is baseless and ludicrous," said Carol Griffith, a deputy district attorney.
The judge sided with the state in allowing the testimony but said he could limit statements on a witness-by-witness basis.
Ogletree ruled on several other motions involving evidence but withheld a decision on another key question: Whether medical workers will be allowed to tell jurors what they heard Garrard say about the child's collapse.
The defense is asking the judge to bar doctors and others from repeating what Garrard told them, but prosecutors filed papers saying Garrard is only trying to prevent the jury from learning that she wasn't truthful following the girl's collapse.
Garrard could receive the death penalty or life without parole if convicted of capital murder. The girl's stepmother is awaiting a separate trial on a murder charge alleging she didn't intervene to help the girl.