Public barred from jury selection in girl's running death

AP News
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Posted: Mar 02, 2015 2:49 PM

GADSDEN, Ala. (AP) — Potential jurors reported amid secrecy Monday for the capital murder trial of an Alabama woman charged in her granddaughter's running death, with the judge refusing public access to process that typically is open.

Dozens of prospective jurors assembled at the Etowah County Courthouse for questioning by attorneys in the trial of Joyce Hardin Garrard, 59, of Boaz.

Jury selection will take days but it's unclear exactly how long, partly because Circuit Judge Billy Ogletree barred the media from being present as prosecutors and defense lawyers talked to would-be jurors.

University of Alabama law professor Joseph Colquitt, a former circuit judge, said judges often allow attorneys to ask some personal questions of jurors in private, but he had never been involved in a case involving an adult defendant where the entire process was closed.

"Basically the idea is that the proceedings in criminal cases are open to the public," said Colquitt.

Authorities contend Garrard killed 9-year-old Savannah Hardin three years ago by making her run for hours as punishment for a lie about eating candy. The woman could receive the death penalty if convicted.

Garrard has pleaded not guilty, and her attorneys blame the child's death on pre-existing medical problems and unspecified things that happened after her collapse. Jury selection will be critical. The panel must eventually decide whether the woman meant to kill the child.

Criminal trials generally are open to the public, and the Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure state that "all proceedings shall be open to the public, unless otherwise provided by law."

Ogletree previously issued an order setting rules for media coverage of Garrard's trial, but it makes no mention of the public being banned from jury selection.

Etowah County Circuit Clerk Cassandra Johnson told The Associated Press that judges in the county, located about 60 miles northeast of Birmingham, typically don't allow the public to witness jury selection.

Attorneys involved in the case cannot comment publicly because of a gag order that Ogletree imposed following Garrard's arrest in 2012.