Ala grandma to get life or death in girl's running death

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GADSDEN, Ala. (AP) — A judge must decide whether to sentence an Alabama woman to life or execution by lethal injection for the killing of her 9-year-old granddaughter, who prosecutors say died after being forced to run for hours for telling a lie.

Etowah County Circuit Judge Billy Ogletree scheduled a sentencing hearing for Monday afternoon for Joyce Hardin Garrard, 50.

Jurors who convicted Garrard of capital murder in March recommended a sentence of life without parole in the February 2012 death of Savannah Hardin. Garrard was convicted of killing her granddaughter by making her run for hours as punishment for a lie about candy.

Prosecutors sought the death penalty but said they were satisfied with the jury's suggestion of life after the trial.

But the jury's recommendation came on a 7-5 vote, and Ogletree could still sentence the woman to death by lethal injection under Alabama law.

A study by the Montgomery-based Equal Justice Initiative found that Alabama judges in capital cases have overridden jury recommendations more than 100 times since 1976, and 92 percent of those decisions overruled life recommendations to impose death.

Neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys responded to interview requests before Garrard's sentencing.

Deputy District Attorney Marcus Reid had asked jurors to recommend the death penalty following the conviction.

"This case is the only case I know of where the perpetrator forced the victim to participate in her own death," he told jurors. "Joyce Garrard forced Savannah Hardin to help kill herself."

But the defense and relatives pleaded for life, and Garrard told jurors she didn't mean to harm the girl. Garrard testified that she was actually helping Savannah, who wanted to do better in foot races at school.

"(Savannah) asked me to coach her. Instead of coming in second in her running class at school she wanted to come in first," said Garrard.

Testimony showed that the child collapsed and vomited outside her rural home following an afternoon of running and carrying sticks, and she died several days later in a hospital after doctors removed her from life support.

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