Stepmom, grandmother charged in Ala. girl's death

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GADSDEN, Ala. (AP) — The grandmother and stepmother of a 9-year-old Alabama girl who died after witnesses said she was forced to run for three hours as punishment for lying have been charged with murder and are being held in jail.

Witnesses told police that Savannah Hardin was told to run and not allowed to stop for three hours on Friday Feb. 17, an Etowah County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman said. The girl's stepmother, 27-year-old Jessica Mae Hardin, called police at 6:45 p.m., telling authorities that Savannah was having a seizure and was unresponsive.

Authorities are still trying to determine whether Savannah was forced to run by physical coercion or by verbal commands only.

Savannah Hardin died Monday at Children's Hospital in Birmingham, according to a news release from the sheriff's office.

Authorities said Jessica Mae Hardin and Savannah's grandmother — 46-year-old Joyce Hardin Garrard — were both arrested and charged with murder after the death was ruled a homicide by a state pathologist.

The sheriff's release says the autopsy report showed the girl was extremely dehydrated and had a very low sodium level.

The sheriff's office received calls from concerned citizens who had witnessed the incident.

"It's sad when a family is grieving over the death of a daughter and granddaughter and so soon to find out that the death could have been prevented," Etowah Sheriff Todd Entrkin wrote in the release. "My thoughts and prayers are with the family."

Garrard and Hardin are being held in the Etowah County Detention Center on a $500,000 cash bond.

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