GADSDEN, Ala. (AP) — Family and friends of Joyce Hardin Garrard pleaded Wednesday for an Alabama jury to spare her life after she was convicted in the running death of her granddaughter, calling her a loving grandmother who had endured an abusive childhood of her own.
"You won't ever see a better grandmother," her husband, Johnny Garrard, told jurors.
Garrard was convicted last week of running her 9-year-old granddaughter Savannah Hardin to death as punishment for a lie about candy. The jury is considering whether Garrard should get a death sentence or life in prison for capital murder.
Garrard's daughter, Joyce Nicole Selvage, 30, wept as she told the jury her mother's months in jail have left a hole in her life.
"I've lost my best friend," she said through her tears. "My daughter hasn't got to touch my mom since she was 6 months old."
Selvage said her mother sometimes would ground her and punish her with "whippings" as a child, "but she was never mean."
The defendant's elder sister, Karen Johnson said she and her siblings were raised by their father and grandmother, and were frequently hungry and beaten.
"Didn't have anything to eat but one or two days a week," she said "You were just constantly beat every day."
Johnson also said that Thursday will be her sister's 50th birthday.
The sentencing hearing got underway Wednesday afternoon after the judge denied a defense motion for a mistrial over allegations of juror misconduct.
The defense had filed a written motion saying four jurors "have been active on Facebook throughout the trial proceedings." It also cited a Daily Beast article that quoted the little girl's mother on March 19 — the day before deliberations began.
Ogletree repeatedly told jurors to stay off social media including Facebook and to avoid all news during the trial, but defense attorney Dani Bone said there was evidence jurors had violated the admonishment. Some jurors weren't truthful when they said in open court that they had followed the judge's instructions, Bone said.
One juror was dismissed Wednesday. The panel now consists of 12 jurors and two alternates. The judge said one juror was dismissed because of a death in the family.
Prosecutors contend Garrard refused to let Savannah stop running even after the girl was vomiting and begging for an end to the exercise. In court, they cited a school bus surveillance video that captured Garrard saying she would run the girl and teach her a lesson.
Garrard, of Boaz, testified last week she had no intention of harming the girl and denied she had forced her to run. Garrard said during cross examination that Savannah wanted Garrard to help her get faster for races at school, and they both ran "a bunch" before Savannah collapsed.
Johnny Garrard told jurors that Savannah held a special place for his wife among the couple's nine grandchildren.
"She was her first, plus her being a girl, she ranked a little above the rest," he said.
Looking at jury, he said: "I respect your decision. I wish it would have been different, but I do respect what you're doing." Fighting tears he added, "But I do hope you'll spare her life."