Defense: Family behind jailed Ala. grandmother

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By JAY REEVES, Associated Press

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Attorneys for an Alabama woman charged in the death of her 9-year-old granddaughter who was forced to run three hours as a punishment said Wednesday the evidence doesn't justify the charges levied by prosecutors.

Joyce Garrard was indicted last week for capital murder in the death of Savannah Hardin. Etowah County prosecutors announced Monday they would seek the death penalty against the 46-year-old grandmother.

Dani Bone and Richard Rhea on Wednesday issued a statement describing the prosecutors' charges as "exaggerated, inflated and false."

"Mrs. Garrard and her family continue to be united in their fight for justice and look forward to clearing her name," the attorneys said.

The girl's stepmother, Jessica Mae Hardin, 27, has been indicted on a felony murder charge. Both women remain jailed. Officials have said Garrard's trial may be held in the fall.

Authorities have accused Garrard of making the child run and pick up logs and other debris last month as punishment for lying about eating chocolate bars.

Garrard's attorneys said neither Garrard nor Jessica Hardin did anything intentional to harm the child, but county District Attorney Jimmie Harp said they should have known the harsh punishment and hours of running could kill the child.

"You've got several witnesses in the neighborhood who saw the child struggling for air and vomiting and even that didn't stop (Garrard)," he said.

Hardin, who was pregnant at the time and has since given birth, was the first person to call 911 after Savannah collapsed into seizures, Harp said, but she failed to do her duty as a parent by not stopping the abuse earlier, he said. While the woman was only outside with Garrard and the girl about 15 minutes, she could have done more to help the girl, the prosecutor said.

Several residents in the area saw the child running, Harp said, but none watched the entire episode or realized what had happened until rescue vehicles arrived.

"You've got four or five different people who saw parts of it, and you stitch together what happened through all of their testimony," he said.

Garrard's attorneys also said Wednesday the relatives of the two women are backing them. The relatives have not commented publicly on the charges, but they sat behind the defense table during a bond hearing earlier this month.

Harp said it was understandable that relatives are supporting the two women since they have yet to see all the evidence gathered by investigators. That includes a surveillance video from the girl's school bus shows Garrard telling the driver she would run the child until "she can't run no more," Harp said.

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