The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

February 28, 2014

Judge: Trial in running death won't be moved


Associated Press

— GADSDEN, Ala. (AP) — A judge refused to move the trial of a northeast Alabama woman charged in the death of her 9-year-old granddaughter, who authorities say was forced to run for hours as punishment until she collapsed and died in 2012.

Circuit Judge Billy Ogletree denied a defense request to move the upcoming trial of Joyce Garrard outside of Etowah County.

Ogletree did not give a reason for his decision in a one-sentence order.

Authorities contend Garrard, 48, forced Savannah Hardin to run around the yard for about three hours as punishment for a lie about candy. The girl collapsed and died three days later at a hospital in Birmingham.

Garrard maintains she is innocent, and many relatives are supporting her. She is being held without bond.

The girl's father recently sued Gadsden Regional Medical Center, where the child was treated after her collapse, and Garrard's defense maintains the girl died because of existing health problems and medical treatment.

Garrard's trial is set for June 23. She is charged with capital murder and could face a potential death penalty if convicted.

The defense claimed the case should be moved away from Etowah County because of extensive publicity about the case. A motion by Garrard's attorney, Dani Bone, said the woman could not receive a fair trial in Gadsden.

"The community of this county has been saturated with stories concerning this case, whether it be through newspaper articles, mouth to mouth or Facebook," Bone said in the motion. "A presumption of prejudice is well established by the volume and content of the media's coverage of this case."

The girl's stepmother, Jessica Hardin, also is charged with murder in her death and is free on bond. Prosecutors contend the woman contributed to the child's death by failing to intervene when Garrard forced her to run.