GADSDEN, Ala. (AP) — A judge sided with prosecutors Monday and refused to acquit an Alabama woman accused of making her granddaughter run until she collapsed and died as punishment for a lie about candy.
Etowah County Circuit Judge Billy Ogletree, ruling after the state finished presenting its case, rejected a defense motion to end the capital murder trial of Joyce Hardin Garrard, 49.
The decision cleared the way for Garrard’s attorneys to begin calling witnesses.
Neighbors testified they saw 9-year-old Savannah Hardin running around her yard picking up sticks and firewood as Garrard barked orders for her to keep going during the afternoon of Feb. 17, 2012.
Evidence showed Garrard told some people the child was being punished, but she also said the girl wanted to run.
After the prosecution rested, the defense argued that authorities had failed to prove the Boaz woman meant to harm the girl even if she did make her run.
If Garrard really wanted to punish the child for a lie, as authorities contend, there was no reason for her to force the girl to run until she died, said defense attorney Sam Bone.
“Discipline means teaching a lesson. How is she going to teach a lesson if she kills her?” Bone told the judge.
Prosecutor Marcus Reid said jurors had plenty of evidence to determine the woman meant to harm the girl. He reminded the judge of evidence that Garrard kept yelling at the child to run even after she was on the ground vomiting and begging to stop.
“You judge a person’s state of mind by what they do,” said Reid.
Garrard faces a potential death penalty or life without parole if convicted in the child’s death.
A nurse who testified as the prosecution’s final witness said Garrard told her Savannah was stricken while going up stairs after picking up sticks in the yard. Garrard once claimed the girl was going in to take a shower and another time that she was going to the restroom, said the nurse, Heather Elgin Gibson.
Gibson, who was working at Gadsden Regional Medical Center, said the child was unconscious and unresponsive in the emergency room. Gibson said she mistakenly “clicked a wrong button” on an electronic chart that made it appear the girl was alert at one point.
“Charting mistakes are inevitable sometimes,” said Gibson.
The point was important because jurors heard another prosecution witness read a medical record that indicated the girl as “alert and oriented” after arriving at the hospital. Evidence that the girl was OK at the hospital would undermine prosecution claims that Garrard ran the girl until she collapsed.