State wants no questions on autopsy doctor in running death

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Posted: Feb 23, 2015 2:01 PM
State wants no questions on autopsy doctor in running death

GADSDEN, Ala. (AP) — Lawyers for an Alabama woman charged in the running death of her 9-year-old granddaughter shouldn't get to raise questions about the past of the doctor who performed the girl's autopsy, prosecutors told a judge.

Etowah County prosecutors, in a motion filed confidentially last week and made public by the defense in a court document late Sunday, argue that attorneys for Joyce Hardin Garrard should be barred from delving into the reasons the doctor left state employment.

The state also asked the judge to block Garrard's lawyers from presenting any unsupported speculation about what killed 9-year-old Savannah Hardin in February 2012. And jurors shouldn't get to hear anyone but Garrard describe her mental state or intent, the state argued.

The defense asked Etowah County Circuit Judge Billy Ogletree to allow all relevant evidence in the trial, which will begin later this week with jury selection.

Questions about the autopsy and Garrard's intent could be vital because the defense blames the child's death on health issues aside from running and denies that the woman wanted to harm the child.

It wasn't immediately clear whether Ogletree would hold a hearing on the motions before final jury selection and opening statements. Preliminary juror qualification ended last week.

The exacting timing of the trial isn't clear because Ogletree issued a gag order that prevents attorneys from publicly discussing even routine scheduling matters. The judge put the Etowah County Sheriff's Department in charge of communicating plans to news outlets, but it has said only it will give a two-day notice before the trial begins.

Authorities contend Garrard made the girl run for hours as punishment for a lie about eating candy. The child collapsed outside the family's rural home and died in a hospital three days later.

The defense contends blames the child's death on treatment decisions and medical conditions she had long before she passed out. The girl's father — Garrard's son — filed a malpractice lawsuit blaming a Gadsden hospital for mistakes in the girl's treatment.

Prosecutors, in a motion that was marked "confidential" and initially unavailable to the public, asked the judge on Thursday to prevent Garrard's lawyers from presenting evidence about the way Savannah was cared for at the hospital unless they also present facts backing up the queries.

The state also sought to block questions about Dr. Emily Ward, identified as the pathologist who performed an autopsy on the child while working for the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences.

In response, the defense filed a copy of a May 2013 letter to Ward from Forensic Sciences Director Michael Sparks saying she was being fired for falsifying time sheets and dereliction of duty for performing work outside the agency's laboratory in Huntsville.

The defense also filed a copy of a lawsuit that Ward brought against private contractors in August 2011 alleging she had suffered a serious allergic reaction while working in the state morgue, which she said was contaminated with fungus.

A Madison County jury rejected Ward's claims last year, ruling in favor of companies that worked on the lab. Ward sought a second trial, but a judge refused.

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Follow AP writer Jay Reeves at https://twitter.com/Jay_Reeves