Prosecutor: Girl forced to run was 'tortured' before dying

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Posted: Mar 20, 2015 4:47 PM
Prosecutor: Girl forced to run was 'tortured' before dying

GADSDEN, Ala. (AP) — A woman who "tortured" her granddaughter by forcing her to run until she dropped and later died should be convicted of capital murder in the girl's death, an Alabama prosecutor told jurors Friday.

"The reason that child is dead is that she was forced to run for hours," Assistant District Attorney Carol Griffith said.

But a defense attorney for 49-year-old Joyce Hardin Garrard portrayed his client as a devoted, helpful grandmother who was helping look after 9-year-old Savannah Hardin while the girl's father was overseas in the military.

Attorneys for both sides concluded their closing arguments Friday afternoon. Once the judge instructs the jury, deliberations could continue into the evening.

Prosecutors contend Hardin forced Savannah to run for hours as punishment for a lie, leading to her collapse and death in a hospital days later.

Griffith said Garrard killed the child intentionally by berating her and making her run around the yard picking up sticks

"She was tortured," Griffith said.

The question of intent is crucial. Garrard could face a death sentence if convicted.

Some witnesses who testified about seeing Garrard force Savannah to run seemed more upset in recalling the scene from the stand than Garrard appeared to be, Griffith said.

But Rhea urged jurors to ask why none of the witnesses intervened, if they thought the abuse was so awful that day.

He said, "I think we have all had the thought: 'If it was that bad, why didn't they do something?'" He said witnesses didn't notify police about their concerns until days later, after they heard girl was on life support.

"Then it becomes 'Oh yeah, I witnessed boot camp. I witnessed the drill sergeant from hell,'" he said.

Another defense lawyer, Dani Bone, challenged the prosecution's medical evidence. While prosecutors argued that Savannah was dehydrated, Bone said medical evidence actually showed she was overhydrated.

He called her death "a freak event" that no one could predict.

The courtroom was full Friday, and officials brought in extra chairs. The spectators included a large contingent of Garrard's relatives, who sat in several rows behind the defense table, while Savannah's mother sat behind the prosecution.

Garrard was the final witness Wednesday, denying she meant to harm Savannah.

She initially denied the girl had run any faster than a trot on Feb. 17, 2012, the day she fell unconscious with seizures that evidence showed were caused by low sodium levels.

But later, during cross-examination, Garrard testified she was training the girl to win foot races at school. She said Savannah loved to run and it was impossible to force the child to run.

Griffith asked jurors not to believe the "sweet little voice" that Garrard used during her testimony. She said no one would have done what Garrard did unless she meant to harm the child

"This woman intended exactly what happened," she said.

Also accused in the case is Savannah's stepmother, Jessica Mae Hardin. She has pleaded not guilty to charges that she didn't try to help the girl and should be held responsible for her death.

No trial date is set for Hardin, and only a few documents have been filed in her case as authorities concentrate on prosecuting Garrard.