Alabama court rejects woman's request to drop murder charge in granddaughter's running death

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BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — A state appeals court refused to dismiss a capital murder charge against an Alabama woman jailed in the running death of her 9-year-old granddaughter, potentially setting the stage for her trial early next year.

The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals rejected a challenge by Joyce Garrard, who is accused of forcing Savannah Hardin to run until she collapsed as punishment for a lie about eating candy.

Garrard, 49, of Boaz has been held since March 2012, but the court rejected defense claims that two trial delays violated her constitutional right to a speedy trial.

One of the postponements was at the judge's discretion, the appeal's court ruled, and the second was caused by a motion filed by the defense, not prosecutors.

Authorities contend Garrard forced the girl to run for hours outside her home in rural northeast Alabama. The child collapsed and died later in a hospital.

Garrard pleaded not guilty to the charge, which carries a potential death penalty, and her lawyers blame the child's death on health problems they say the girl experienced before the episode.

The girl's father has filed a malpractice lawsuit that makes claims similar to the defense arguments.

The decision by the appeals court did not address Garrard's claims about potential problems with the girl's autopsy.

The judges ruled Friday. Garrard's trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 23 in Etowah County.

The girl's stepmother also is awaiting trial on a murder charge and is accused of failing to intervene and save the child. She has pleaded not guilty.

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