Savannah Hardin, 9, died after allegedly being forced to run for hours as punishment for eating a candy bar

By Tara Fowler
Updated March 10, 2015 11:00 AM
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Credit: Eric T. Wright/The Gadsden Times/AP

An Alabama grandmother is charged with capital murder for allegedly forcing her 9-year-old granddaughter, Savannah Hardin, to run for three hours as punishment for lying about eating candy bars.

The trial for Joyce Garrard kicked off on Monday with emotional testimony from bus driver Raeanna Holmes, who first alerted the family to the candy situation, AL.com reports.

Holmes testified that she’d discovered three candy bar wrappers and had told the family that the girl had admitted to eating them. She thought Savannah might have taken them from another student without paying. Concerned for the girl’s behavior, she notified her family.

The next day, Feb. 17, 2012, Savannah wasn’t on the bus. While dropping off two children in front of the Carlisle Acres residence where Savannah lived, Holmes was approached by Garrard for a conversation that was recorded by the bus’s surveillance camera.

“She’s going to run till I tell her to stop,” Garrard can be heard saying, according to WBRC. “She’s gonna learn … I don’t play with her.”

The bus driver could see the girl running in a wooded area on the family’s property and asked whether she was okay, AL.com reports. “She might be when I get about four more bottles of water in her,” Garrard answers in the video.

Garrard told Holmes that Savannah suffered from bladder reflux and that’s why she wasn’t supposed to eat candy.

Holmes cried as she watched the video of the conversation. “I feel partly responsible,” she told the court. “I should have paid for those candy bars.”

A neighbor, Chad Jacobs, also testified on Monday, saying he saw the girl running with firewood, according to the Associated Press.

“Joyce and Savannah were in the yard, and Joyce was telling Savannah to keep running,” said Jacobs. “She was just saying, ‘Keep running, I didn’t tell you to stop.’ ”

Initially, he wasn’t concerned. But when he came home hours later and saw the girl vomiting on all fours, he knew something was wrong.

Paramedics arrived shortly afterwards, but by then Savannah had collapsed and was “freezing cold to the touch,” assistant district attorney Marcus Reid described.

She slipped into a coma and died a few days later after being taken off life support.

Holmes told the jury that Garrard called her Sunday night, two days after Savannah collapsed, to ask if the girl had hit her head on the bus, according to the Gadsden Times.

“I tried to console her,” Holmes said of the phone conversation. “I told her I felt like Savannah was her world. That’s what I thought at the time.”

Defense attorney Dani Bone told the jury that prosecutors would try “to hoodwink you with junk science,” the AP reports. He also said that Savannah was not dehydrated at the time of her death and that she actually died because of a fatally low sodium level, per WBRC.

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.