Jessica Hardin, Stepmother Who Allowed 9-Year-Old Savannah Hardin To Be Run To Death, Pleads Guilty To Child Abuse

Jessica Hardin, the stepmother of 9-year-old Savannah Hardin, who was forced to run to death by her grandmother, pleaded guilty on Friday to aggravated child abuse for failing to intervene.

According to AL, a spokesperson from the Etowah County Courthouse said Jessica Mae Hardin, 31, had previously been charged with felony murder before pleading guilty to the lesser charges. Prosecutors said the plea deal was agreed upon after they consulted with Savannah’s parents.

Per the plea deal, Etowah County District Attorney Jody Willoughby sentenced Jessica to 20 years in the state penitentiary. According to the spokesperson, Hardin will receive credit for her time served at the Etowah County Detention Center, and will not have to spend any additional time in prison as long as she abides by certain rules. She will, however, continue to be identified as a state inmate, and will serve five years on supervised probation and will have to pay various fees associated with the case.

Jessica Hardin pleads guilty Jessica Hardin, 31, failed to intervene when her 9-year-old stepdaughter Savannah Hardin was forced by her grandmother to run until she died in 2012
[Photo via AP Photo/Etowah County Sheriff’s Office, File]
Savannah Hardin’s tragic death occurred on Feb. 20, 2012. AL reports Savannah was being punished by her grandmother Joyce Hardin Garrard for lying about eating candy bars. Garrard reportedly forced Savannah to run for more than three hours while carrying heavy loads of firewood. Jessica Hardin, who was pregnant at the time, was home while the punishment was taking place and did nothing to stop it. Savannah’s bus driver and neighbors also saw what was happening and did nothing to help her.

Savannah was taken to a Birmingham children’s hospital, where doctors say she suffered from seizures that were triggered by low sodium, brought on by “prolonged physical exertion,” according to The Daily Beast. When Savannah’s mother, Heather Walker, arrived, Garrard told her she had been practicing for a race at school because she kept coming in second place. Joyce’s story as to how Savannah received the injuries continued to change throughout the day, leading to suspicion.

During a 2015 interview, her first since her daughter’s death, Heather spoke about Joyce’s demeanor while at the hospital. After Savannah was taken off of life support, Heather said “she pinned Jessica up against the side of the hospital wall. She was staring into her eyes and telling her in a low stern voice, ‘Listen here, you need to pull it together. Do you understand what I’m trying to tell you? There’s a lot on the line here.’ And I knew something wasn’t right.” The next day, Joyce and Jessica were arrested.

Nearly three years later, in March 2015, an Etowah County jury convicted Joyce Hardin Garrard of capital murder in Savannah’s death. She was later sentenced to life in prison without parole by Judge Billy Ogletree, the same judge who sentenced Jessica Hardin. Savannah’s grandmother started serving her sentence at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, Alabama, but later died from a heart attack.

During the trial, the 49-year-old grandmother said she would “die” before she would ever hurt any of her grandchildren, including Savannah. She said she never forced her to run, that she was practicing for a school race, and that the two of them just happened to be out in the yard picking up sticks together while taking about the importance of not lying.

“She asked me to coach her. Instead of coming in second in her running class at school she wanted to come in first,” Garrard said at the time.

It was a conversation between Joyce and Savannah’s bus driver that ultimately shed light on the truth. In a surveillance video, provided by the bus, Garrard can be heard saying, “She’s going to run till I tell her to stop… I don’t play with her.”

[Photo via Shuttertstock]