Girl's mother calls for death sentence in run-to-death case

AP News
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Posted: Mar 23, 2015 1:53 PM
Girl's mother calls for death sentence in run-to-death case

GADSDEN, Ala. (AP) — The mother of an Alabama girl testified through tears Monday that the child's grandmother doesn't deserve to live after being convicted of running the youngster to death.

Heather Walker took the stand in support of prosecutors who want the death penalty for her former mother-in-law, Joyce Hardin Garrard.

Walker said the 49-year-old Garrard "shouldn't be spared" after being convicted of capital murder in the death of 9-year-old Savannah Hardin.

"I personally feel like I see no remorse and she took away my baby's life," Walker said of Garrard.

Seated just a few feet away at the defense table, Garrard showed no emotion. Meanwhile, much of Walker's testimony was hard to understand because she was sobbing uncontrollably.

Walker, who is divorced from Garrard's son Robert and has since remarried, said she wasn't allowed to see Savannah during the last two years of the girl's life.

Jurors convicted Garrard on Friday and now must decide whether to recommend death or life without parole, the only options under Alabama law. The final decision is up to the judge.

The defense will begin presenting its case for a life sentence on Wednesday.

Prosecutors said Garrard — with eight surviving grandchildren and a ninth-grade education — should be put to death for making the child run around her yard and carry wood for hours as punishment for a lie about candy in February 2012.

Under cross-examination by defense attorney Richard Rhea, Walker said she didn't believe Garrard "woke up that morning" planning to kill Savannah. Rather, she said, the situation seemed to get out of hand.

"I think there was a point where she knew what she was doing," Walker said. Another witness, Samuel Hudgins, testified he saw the girl running laps around the house that day as Garrard stood by.

Savannah collapsed from a seizure and died three days later in a hospital in Birmingham after doctors determined there was no brain activity and removed her from life support. An autopsy blamed her death on seizures cause by low sodium following extreme physical exertion.

Walker described the mournful scene in the hospital room as a physician turned off a breathing machine as a test to see whether Savannah, who was unconscious, would breathe on her own.

"During this time Joyce was just screaming at Savannah saying, 'Savannah, you need to breathe,'" Walker said.

Within moments it was obvious Savannah wouldn't survive, she said.

"I held her hand until her body stiffened up," said Walker, sobbing and barely understandable.

But Garrard seemed more worried about herself than her granddaughter, Walker said.

Later at the hospital, Walker said, Garrard grabbed the shoulders of the child's pregnant stepmother, Jessica Mae Hardin.

Even though Hardin was in labor at the time and would later give birth, Garrard seemed intent on getting the other woman's attention, Walker said.

"She said, 'Jessica, there's a lot on the line. You need to pull it together,'" Walker said.

Walker said already had suspicions about what had happened to her daughter, and she became "more uneasy" after hearing Garrard's remarks to Hardin.

Garrard and Hardin were both at the house the afternoon the girl ran, evidence showed.

Walker said her ex-husband later told her of the arrests of Garrard and Hardin, who is charged with murder for allegedly sitting by as Garrard ran the girl to death.

Savannah loved cheerleading and horses and wanted to be a veterinarian when she grew up, Walker said. "She was full of life. She was the sweetest little girl," said Walker.