MONTGOMERY, Ala. — An Alabama woman is under guard at a hospital after she gave birth following her arrest in the death of her 9-year-old stepdaughter, who authorities say was forced to run for three hours as punishment for lying about eating a candy bar.
Jessica Mae Hardin, 27, was transferred from the Etowah County Detention Center to a hospital on Wednesday, sheriff’s office spokeswoman Natalie Barton said. Etowah County District Attorney Jimmie Harp confirmed that Hardin had given birth hours after she was arrested. He didn’t say whether the newborn was a boy or a girl.
Hardin and her mother-in-law, 46-year-old Joyce Hardin Garrard, were arrested and charged with murder on Wednesday in the death of Savannah Hardin.
Roger Simpson, who lives up the hill from the doublewide trailer where Savannah lived with Jessica and her father Robert Hardin, said he saw the girl running in the yard. When emergency vehicles arrived at the home hours later, he said he thought they were there for the pregnant Jessica.
Alabama law requires people who are arrested to be informed of the charges against them in an initial appearance within 72 hours. Barton said Jessica Hardin’s hearing will likely be held once she is released from the hospital.
The Alabama Department of Human Resources has been called in to create a safety plan for Jessica’s newborn, as well as the couple’s 3-year-old son, Harp said.
Savannah had a bladder condition common to young girls that meant she shouldn’t have chocolate because of the caffeine content, Harp said. He said there is no evidence that the condition contributed to her death.
Authorities say Savannah was forced to run in the afternoon of Friday, Feb. 17. At around 6:45 p.m. Jessica called 911, telling dispatchers Savannah was having a seizure and was unresponsive.
The girl was taken to Children’s Hospital in Birmingham and died Monday. Her death was ruled a homicide by a state pathologist and 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. He said his office is interviewing neighbors who had seen Savannah running and expects to have a decision on the charges in a day or two.
The district attorney said he was not aware of any defense attorneys for the two women. He said in their initial appearance they will be advised of the charges against them and offered a public defender.
Bond for Garrard and Jessica Hardin is set at $500,000 each.