Grandmother accused of running girl to death to face capital charge

A woman accused of running her 9-year-old granddaughter to death as punishment for eating chocolate was captured on a school bus videotape saying she planned to run the child "'til she can't run no more," a prosecutor told a judge Thursday in announcing capital murder charges.

Joyce Hardin Garrard, who faces a potential death penalty if convicted, made the threat as she yanked Savannah Hardin off a school bus that was equipped with a surveillance system, said Marcus Reid, an assistant district attorney in Etowah County.

Angered by a supposed lie the child told, Garrard told the driver: `"I gonna run her `til she can't run no more,"' Reid said.

"That's exactly what she did," said the prosecutor, calling Garrard a "drill sergeant from hell."

Garrard, 46, and Savannah's stepmother, 27-year-old Jessica Mae Hardin, are both charged in the child's death last month. Authorities say the older woman made the child run for three hours as punishment, and the younger woman -- who was nine months pregnant at the time and has since given birth -- did nothing to intervene.

The defense contends neither woman did anything intentional to cause the child's death, which they blame on an unspecified medical problem. Court documents in an unrelated custody case show the child had health issues and made frequent trips to doctors.

Reid said after taking the child off the bus, Garrard forced Savannah to run and carry firewood until she collapsed in exhaustion in her yard. Autopsy photos show marks on the girl's arms from where the logs dug into her skin, Reid said, and a debris pile of limbs and large logs was visible outside the house the day after charges were filed against the women.

The child's father, Robert Hardin, sat behind the defense table during the hearing in apparent support of Garrard, his mother, and Hardin, his wife. Other relatives and friends sat around him, occasionally mouthing words to the two women.

District Judge William D. Russell did not immediately rule on a defense request to lower the women's bonds, now set at $500,000 cash each. State law doesn't law bond for capital defendants, and prosecutors said the might also upgrade charges against Hardin by next week to capital murder.

District Attorney Jimmie Harp said a grand jury that begins meeting Monday will likely consider the case.

Authorities say medics responding to a 911 call found the child having seizures at the family's mobile home Feb. 17. Her father, who was overseas working as a State Department contractor at the time, rushed home and made the decision to remove the girl from life support three days later.

Authorities said an autopsy revealed the girl was severely dehydrated and had extremely low sodium levels. They compared her condition to that of an athlete who ran a marathon without drinking any water.

When Reid called Garrard the "drill sergeant from hell" and pointed at her, Garrard's lawyer Dani Bone, who jumped up between Reid and Garrard, crossed his arms and yelled at Reid to quit pointing at the woman.

"That's inappropriate!" Bone said.

While Reid said Hardin spent time on her laptop and talking on a cellphone while her stepdaughter was forced to run, defense lawyers said the younger woman was busy caring for her 3-year-old son and didn't know what was happening. Defense attorney Morgan Cunningham said the woman went into labor while being questioned about Savannah's death and gave birth the day of her arrest.

Asking for the bond reduction, Cunningham said the woman needs time to be a mom.

"She needs to be able to bond with the newborn," he said.

Authorities said Hardin called 911 after the child collapsed.