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Grandma Who Forced Her Granddaughter to Run to Death Gets Life in Prison: 'She's Innocent,' Says Husband

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Eric T. Wright/The Gadsden Times/AP

Joyce Garrard, the grandma convicted of forcing her 9-year-old granddaughter Savannah Hardin to run to death, was sentenced to life in prison without parole on Monday.

A jury found Garrard, 49, guilty of capital murder in March for making the little girl run for hours after she lied about eating candy bars.

Her husband, Johnny, insisted shortly after the sentence was handed down that his wife had committed no crime. “It’s all wrong,” he told reporters outside the courtroom, according to The Huntsville Times. “It’s all wrong. She’s innocent of this.”

He added: “I know what happened that day. We were there. She would never have done anything against Savannah.”

Garrard previously testified that she’d “die” before hurting Savannah, who passed away in February 2012 after her family took her off life support. “I was calling to Savannah, ‘Savannah, it will be all right,’ ” the 49-year-old said of witnessing her granddaughter collapse. “But it wasn’t.”

Prosecutors called her testimony into question, citing a conversation between the grandma and Savannah’s bus driver, captured by a surveillance camera on the bus. In it, Garrard can be heard saying, “She’s going to run till I tell her to stop … I don’t play with her.”

But Garrard said Savannah loved to run and that the 9-year-old had asked her to coach her that fateful February day. “She asked me to coach her. Instead of coming in second in her running class at school she wanted to come in first,” Garrard said.

Garrard’s family isn’t sure how they will go on now. “I don’t know what I’m going to do without her,” her sister-in-law Judy said, the Times reports. “She was always there for us no matter what. It seemed like she knew everything. It’s just not right.”

She added that she believes there should have been a mistrial as the judge presiding over Garrard’s trial had previously been involved in a custody case between Savannah’s mother and father.

Savannah’s stepmother, Jessica Mae Hardin, is currently awaiting trial on a murder charge in the girl’s death. Police say she knew what was happening and failed to intervene.

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