Alabama Accuses Grandmother Of Senseless Killing of Granddaughter . . . Then Seeks To Kill Grandmother

An Alabama prosecutor has announced that the state will seek the death penalty for Joyce Garrard, 46, who is accused of killing 9-year-old Savannah Hardin by making the child run for hours as punishment for eating candy. The charge raises the question of the evolution of the standard set by the Supreme Court

In Walton v. Arizona, 497 U.S. 639 (1990), the Supreme Court upheld Arizona laws allowing a death sentence based on the finding of an aggravating factor that the murder was “especially heinous, cruel, or depraved.” The ruling set aside prior rulings finding such terms to be unconstitutionally vague and raised concerns that we were returning to a broader use of capital punishment for more conventional murders (since most would fit this language).

In this case, Calhoun County District Attorney Jimmie Harp stated “The grand jury thought that Joyce Garrard had the intent or should have known that if you run a child to the point in time where it gets to the point that the body shuts down and can’t support life anymore, that you could infer that intent was there.”

This case has certainly appalled most of us with the death of this child. However, it is now unclear how much more heinous a murder must be to constitutionally justify the death penalty. “Should have known” how a body shuts down is a far distance from the standard assumed after Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972). This would appear to sweep criminal recklessness into the category of death penalty offenses. There is no evidence that I have read suggesting that this grandmother wanted to kill the child.

It is often difficult to separate our anger from our analysis in such cases. However, it is unclear if there remains a significant remaining difference between murder cases certified as “death qualified” and those that are not. That raises the very question of consistency that led to the Court’s historical ruling in Furman.

What do you think?

Source: CNN

43 thoughts on “Alabama Accuses Grandmother Of Senseless Killing of Granddaughter . . . Then Seeks To Kill Grandmother”

  1. Another bit of information that has influenced the prosecution is that the step-mom and grandmother withheld the information that they had her running for hours from emergency and medical personnel. They indicated that she just fell over and convulsed. That is not what happened and they withheld it. Neighbors called the sheriff dept to ask how the child was doing, were told she died, and they told law enforcement they had seen her running for hours.

  2. References are made to the biological father as being deployed military. This is false. He was previously in the US Navy. He was working as a private contractor for the US State Dept in Pakistan. His allegations against his ex-wife the biological mother of this child can be read here: All were found to be without merit. The released divorce and custody pleadings Mr. Hardin made against his ex-wife and his current wife may be found here: These documents do not put the biological father in an favorable light. The most recent court pleadings of the biological mother are heartbreaking in that she was denied contact with the child and suspected something was very wrong. His custody attorney withdrew due to “breakdown in attorney client relation ship and plaintiff failing to properly communicate with counsel” weeks before this child was dead and a highly contested custody hearing was scheduled. Patterns of abuse and scapegoating will be central to the prosecution.

  3. Those contemplating this story might want to look up the story of Nance Dude.

    My friend Sharyn McCrumb used the horrible crime of Nance Dude as the anchor theme of her novel, “The Rosewood Casket.” I recommend it.

  4. The title says it all – you killed someone now we are going to teach the lesson that killing is wrong- by killing you.
    I agree with the economic argument as well (Gene I think was the one who mentioned that)
    I have heard the argument about life without parole – it gives inmates no incentive to be on good behavior because they know no matter what they will not get out. It is a conundrum, if you don’t have state sanctioned murder, if keeping them in for life with no prospect of hope is problematic for the jails and jailers, what do you do with them?

  5. pete:

    “no doubt the grandmother should be punished, but how much of the punishment is because the father was deployed military.”


    I would say precisely the amount the father expected to be inflicted on his child left in the care of her grandmother and stepmother.

  6. no doubt the grandmother should be punished, but how much of the punishment is because the father was deployed military.

  7. Idealist707,

    Briefly, the equivalent to death is a prison unlike any that we have today. In this system, all convicts have been declared legally dead and have absolutely no contact with the outside world e.g. no TV, no radio, no visitors, no newspapers, no letters in and none out. Whatever they have for personal property would have come in with them originally. There is no verbal or physical contact with guards. Each cell module provides the con with a high level of personal security, hygiene facilities, heat and AC. Daily meals and any prescription drugs are delivered to the cell module with accommodations made for special diets required for health or religious reasons. Cons get medical and dental attention as required. This is done by moving the cell module (with con aboard) to a highly guarded service facility.

    Each cell module opens (through a security pass-through) to a common area. The common area would be segregated to protect the common murderers from the total psychos. The original concept (1977) was for a circular underground facility consisting of 240 cell modules and designed for low cost operation with minimum staff.

    Life without parole fits many situations but it always brings to mind the Richard Speck case where he spent his “life” with a supply of dope, booze, and his cellmate lover. The families of his eight victims were not pleased.

  8. Most states that have the death penalty, make murder in the commission of child abuse a capital crime. As Gene alludes to above, some crimes are so awful as to make one rethink whether the death penalty should be totally abolished.

    Going to trial on a case like this is a defense lawyer’s nightmare.

  9. raff/mespo,

    As you both know, I’m against the death penalty on economic grounds, but I’ll certainly have to agree that on merit this case meets the criteria for the punishment being just. It was a base betrayal of the most cruel and inhuman sort. A little girl had all she was and all she would ever be taken from her over a candy bar and by people who allegedly loved her. Vile is an adjective that only scratches the surface.

  10. pete:

    “dead child=someone should die for it

    nancy grace justice”


    Not exactly, pete. Refusing to accept that some acts derive from inhuman motivations cheapens us all. Accepting the inevitability of that conduct insures its existence. Refusing to defend and vindicate innocent life by assessing the ultimate penalty drafts us into complicity with the evil. A rare punishment to be sure but sometimes fully justified.

    Tolerating the intolerable in defense of toleration is no virtue.

  11. Mespo,
    You are right. Such a sad case. I am not a fan of capital punishment, but this kind of case gets me close.

  12. “…they have no choice; they have no voice.” You tell ’em Karen:

  13. “The charge raises the question of the evolution of the standard set by the Supreme Court.”


    The charge also raises the question of whether granny here has evolved at all.

    Forgive me for saying but killing an innocent by means of physical torture sure sounds “especially heinous, cruel, or depraved” to these outraged eyes. I may feel differently in the cold light of reason but let me have my “reptilian brain moment” in defense of this beautiful child done in by the cretin she trusted.

  14. In sweden until 1960. and don’t bring up the little frontal lobotomy trick. a real winner. of course it save lives, they said. but was it worth saving what was left.

  15. I would love to run Grandma to death behind a pickup truck. Who does that to their grandchildren? My grandparents never even yelled at me. My parents sure did but I appreciate that now. My call on this case is life without parole for Grandma and 35 years for Mom. Also think about it. The Grandmother is all of 46. The poor kid was 9 years old, in 3rd grade. that leaves one year for conception and nine years for the life of the child. That means Evil Granny was all of 36 when she became a Grandma. That is ridiculously young. That means at least according to my poor math skills, that at least one parent of the child was a teenager at the time of her birth. The Grandmother herself is probably a teenage parent.

    “unless we start compulsory sterilisation on exam basis.”

    Perhaps greater emphasis on teenage contraception. Eugenics (part of which is sterilizing undesirables) was practiced in the early 20th century especially by California and Virginia. Oh. and the Nazis who modeled their program after Californian pratices. over 20000 people were sterilized between 1909 and 1960! I believe. Not a dime has been paid by California to those they snipped.

  16. Whoever “runs against” this prosecutor would do well to post the Sxth Commandment on his campaign literature.

  17. DOD
    You ain’t talking to me but I hear you. And wonder what your equivalent to death might be.
    As for folks searching for closure through revenge—-they are doomed to failure, and should not be encouraged by any system which they might believe would satisfy that need. Nor should the system in any way kill anyone, nor encourage people to see that as a solution. It is of course difficult to achieve with our culture and wars.

    Imprisonment without parole satisfies society’s need to handle the risks.
    But I prefer the Swedish system of the possibility of parole, as a considered
    measure, after 15-20 years. Few are granted that parole. But then few get life here. To consider a life so precious that termination effectively by sacrificing the life of the murderer, is essentially inhumane. And I’ll stake my life on it.

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