Judge limits medical testimony about girl's running death

AP News
Posted: Feb 24, 2015 5:33 PM
Judge limits medical testimony about girl's running death

GADSDEN, Ala. (AP) — An Alabama judge agreed with prosecutors Tuesday and limited medical testimony about a 9-year-old girl who was allegedly run to death by her grandmother.

Etowah County Circuit Judge Billy Ogletree granted a prosecution motion to prevent testimony about the way hospitals cared for Savannah Hardin after she collapsed three years ago.

Ogletree left the door open for the defense to challenge the work history of the doctor who performed the child's autopsy, however.

The judge's rulings came during a contentious hearing for Joyce Hardin Garrard, 59, who is charged with capital murder and faces a possible death penalty if convicted in her granddaughter's death. At one point the judge banged his gavel and ordered bickering lawyers into his office.

Delayed because of a potential winter storm that could dump a half-foot of snow on Alabama on Wednesday, jury selection will resume Thursday, the judge said. Opening statements will be held next week at the earliest.

Prosecutors contend Garrard forced the girl to run around the yard carrying wood as punishment for a lie about eating candy. The child collapsed and died three days later. The defense has blamed the child's death on other factors including health issues and said Garrard had no intent to harm the girl.

Prosecutor Marcus Reid told the judge the defense has suggested it plans to attack the standard of care provided to the girl, and he asked the judge to prevent such testimony unless it was backed up by facts.

No one has said the girl could have been saved following her collapse, Reid said, and for the defense to introduce medical testimony about her care would only confuse jurors.

"What happened (in the yard) placed her on a road that could take her nowhere but to death," Reid said.

Defense attorneys denied that they planned to attack medical care provided to the child at hospitals, but they suggested factors others than Garrard's alleged actions at the family home in rural northeast Alabama caused the girl's death.

The defense previously has suggested the girl had other medical problems that contributed to her death.

Claiming that the child's autopsy and her death certificate were badly flawed, defense attorney Dani Bone asked the judge to let jurors hear testimony about the work history of the state pathologist who performed the autopsy, Dr. Emily Ward.

District Attorney Jimmie Harp argued that no one has challenged the autopsy as being "anything but fine," and he said trial rules prohibit the defense from attacking personnel issues to discredit state witnesses.

But the judge said he would allow defense testimony that Bone said included Ward's admission under oath in another case that she was disabled and unable to work.

Ward, who last year lost a lawsuit claiming she was sickened by fungal contamination at the state morgue in Huntsville, was subpoenaed to appear at the hearing but did not testify.