GADSDEN, Ala. (AP) – An Alabama woman is spending her birthday in court learning whether jurors want her to be executed for running her granddaughter to death.
Closing arguments in the sentencing phase of Joyce Hardin Garrard’s trial began Thursday, Garrard’s 50th birthday. She was convicted of capital murder last week in the death of 9-year-old Savannah Hardin.
Assistant District Attorney Marcus Reid asked jurors to recommend the death penalty, adding that he’s never prosecuted a case like this one.
“This case is the only case I know of where the perpetrator forced the victim to participate in her own death,” he said. “Joyce Garrard forced Savannah Hardin to help kill herself.”
Prosecutors contend Garrard made the girl run as punishment for telling a lie about candy, and refused to let Savannah stop running even after the girl was vomiting and begging for an end to the exercise. In court, they cited a school bus surveillance video that captured Garrard saying she would run the girl and teach her a lesson.
Reid told jurors that Garrard had cried in the courtroom at the mention of her birthday, but didn’t cry when jurors were shown the soiled blue pants Savannah was wearing the night of her collapse.
“Savannah is dead. Joyce Garrard is pitiless. She doesn’t believe she did anything wrong,” he said.
The defense, which was set to make its closing arguments after Reid finished, says Garrard was a good grandmother who suffered abuse in her own upbringing.
Garrard, of Boaz, testified last week she had no intention of harming the girl and denied she had forced her to run. Garrard said during cross examination that Savannah wanted Garrard to help her get faster for races at school, and they both ran “a bunch” before Savannah collapsed.
Because Thursday was Garrard’s birthday, deputies allowed her to hug relatives across the short wall that separates the front of the courtroom from the spectators before court opened in the morning.
Joyce embraced her husband Jonny Garrard for several minutes, rubbing his back and the back of his head as she and her relatives wept.
Afterward, she sat down at the defense table and stared at her son and Savannah’s father, Robert, who was in the courtroom for the first time. He sat directly behind the prosecution table and did not appear to return the eye contact.
Jurors will recommend either death or life without parole.
A vote of at least 10 of 12 jurors is required for the panel to recommend death. A simple majority can recommend life.
The final decision will be up to Circuit Judge Billy Ogletree.
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