Stepmom pleads guilty for role in death of girl who ran to death while being punished by grandmom

- The stepmother of an Alabama girl who was forced to run for hours in what became a fatal punishment for eating candy has pleaded guilty to her role in the 2012 death.

Jessica Mae Hardin, 31, pleaded guilty Friday to aggravated child abuse for the mistreatment of her stepdaughter, Savannah Hardin.

According to a statement from Etowah County prosecutors, Hardin had been charged with murder but entered the plea as part of a deal that allows her to avoid additional time in custody.

Savannah's grandmother, Joyce Hardin Garrard, was previously convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Prosecutors accused Jessica Hardin of failing to intervene on Savannah's behalf. According to the statement, prosecutors found that Hardin failed to do so because she was "extremely intimidated" by Garrard.

The AP reports that Savannah's mother and father were part of the negotiations that have won Hardin's release.

Hardin, who was pregnant when she was taken into custody and has since given birth to the child, was set to go to trial late this summer.

"Everyone who had been involved with the investigation and prosecution of these cases felt that the plea to aggravated child abuse was appropriate," prosecutor Marcus Reid said in a statement. "Each of us believed that this plea of guilty by Jessica Hardin would represent justice for Savannah."

Less than a year into her life sentence for her role in the death of the 9-year-old, Joyce Garrard suffered an apparent heart attack minutes after she was visited by members of her family.

The 50-year-old collapsed and was airlifted to a hospital, where she was placed on life support.

Garrard was convicted of capital murder last March in the death of Hardin, who she forced to run for nearly three hours before the girl collapsed and fell into seizures and later died of dehydration and low sodium.

Prosecutors showed that, in 2012, Garrard had forced the girl to run as a punishment for eating a candy bar and then lying about it.

Garrard told a bus driver at the time that the girl had a bladder condition and wasn't allowed to eat sweets.

A judge in the case overrided the jury's recommendation that Garrard be put to death.

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