MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama officials have taken steps to keep safe the children of a woman arrested in the death of her 9-year-old stepdaughter who was forced to run for three hours, including a baby the stepmom gave birth to hours after being taken into custody.
The state Department of Human Resources has been asked to create a safety plan for Jessica Mae Hardin's newborn as well as her 3-year-old son, said Etowah County District Attorney Jimmie Harp. The older child has been placed with a relative and the plan is for the infant to be given to the same relative after the baby leaves the hospital, department spokesman Barry Spear said.
Hardin, 27, was under guard at a hospital Thursday after giving birth. She and her mother-in-law, Joyce Hardin Garrard, 46, were charged Wednesday with murder in the death of Savannah Hardin. Authorities say the girl died Monday after she was forced to run on Feb. 17 as punishment for lying about eating a candy bar.
The girl had a bladder condition common to young girls that meant she shouldn't have chocolate because of the caffeine content. There is no evidence the condition contributed to her death, Harp said.
A state pathologist ruled her death a homicide. Preliminary reports show she was extremely dehydrated and had a very low sodium level — a chemical necessary to prevent seizures and dehydration.
Harp said he may pursue capital murder charges, which carry a possible death sentence, and may have a decision in a day or two. Bond for Hardin and Garrard has been set at $500,000 each.
Jessica Hardin was transferred from the Etowah County Detention Center to the hospital on Wednesday, said sheriff's office spokeswoman Natalie Barton. Alabama law requires people who are arrested to be informed of the charges against them in an initial appearance within 24 hours. Her hearing likely will be held once she is released from the hospital, Barton said.
The Birmingham News reported she has been appointed Morgan Cunningham as a public defender. Cunningham did not immediately return calls Thursday from The Associated Press.
A defense attorney for Garrard said the woman has been falsely accused.
"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."
Authorities say Savannah was forced to run in the afternoon of Friday, Feb. 17. At around 6:45 p.m. Jessica Hardin called 911, telling dispatchers Savannah was having a seizure and was unresponsive.
The girl was taken to Children's Hospital in Birmingham, where she was kept on life support while her father, Robert Hardin, a contractor with the U.S. State Department, took eight flights to return to Alabama.
"It must have been horrible," Harp said, "especially for what he saw when he got back."
Robert Hardin made the decision to pull Savannah off life support and she died Monday.
Court records show he filed for divorce in August 2010. In his complaint, he asserted his wife was bi-polar and had alcoholic tendencies. He accused her of previously having run off with the couple's own child. In her response, Jessica Hardin denied all of his allegations.
Five months after filing, the two asked a judge to dismiss their case.