Savannah Hardin's stepmother and grandmother are facing murder charges in connection with her death

By Brian Orloff
February 24, 2012 04:30 PM
Etowah County Sheriffs Office/AP

A 9-year-old Alabama girl died on Monday after allegedly being forced to run for three hours as a punishment for lying about eating a candy bar.

The girl, Savannah Hardin, was reportedly forced to run on the afternoon of Friday Feb. 17 by her grandmother and stepmother. According to the Birmingham News, her stepmother, Jessica Mae Hardin, called 911 at 6:45 p.m. and reported that Savannah was having a seizure and was unresponsive.

She was taken to Children’s Hospital in Birmingham, Ala., where she died after being taken off life support on Monday.

A state pathologist ruled the third grader’s death a homicide, and her body has been sent to Huntsville, Ala., for an autopsy, reports the Birmingham News. Preliminary reports indicated that Savannah was extremely dehydrated and had very low sodium levels.

According to AP reports, Savannah had a very common bladder condition and could not handle the caffeine in a chocolate bar. It is not believed, however, that the bladder condition contributed to her death.

Jessica Hardin, 27, her stepmother, and Joyce Hardin Garrard, 46, her grandmother, are being charged with murder. Etowah County District Attorney Jimmie Harp told the AP that he may pursue capital murder charges, which could carry the death sentence.

Cause for Concern

According to local reports, police became involved when concerned citizens called and reported that they witnessed Hardin being forced to run.

Police are still trying to figure out if Savannah was forced to run by physical coercion or by verbal commands, according to AP.

“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,” Sheriff Todd Entrekin told the Birmingham News. “My thoughts and prayers are with the family.”

Savannah’s father, Robert Hardin, who works for the State Department, had to return to Alabama – taking eight flights, according to the AP – to be with his daughter in the hospital. On Monday, he made the decision to take her off life support.

Robert filed for divorce from Jessica in August 2010, and the AP cites his divorce complaint which says that Jessica was bipolar and had alcoholic tendencies. She denied both claims, and five months later the two asked the judge to dismiss their case.

A New Baby

On Wednesday, Jessica was transferred from Etowah County Detention Center – where she and Garrard were being held on $500,000 bond – to the hospital, where she gave birth, according to the AP.

Jessica also has a 3-year-old son who has been placed in the custody of a relative, and Alabama officials are formulating a safety plan for her newborn. It is believed that the baby will also be placed in the same relative’s care.

The Birmingham News reports that Jessica Hardin was appointed a public defender.

Joyce Garrad has her own defense attorney who maintains her innocence.

“It is my belief Ms. Garrard will be vindicated and found not guilty of the allegation against her,” attorney Dani Bone wrote in a statement. “Even then, Joyce Garrard and her family will continue to grieve over the loss of their beloved Savannah.”