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Jessica Hardin, Accused Of Forcing Step-Daughter To Run To Death, Gives Birth In Custody

First Posted: 02/23/2012 5:53 pm Updated: 02/24/2012 4:06 pm

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 said he didn't know 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 woman.

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.

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FILE- This 2006 file family photo provided by Patrick Blackwelder shows his former stepdaughter, Savannah Hardin. Authorities have charged Savannah Hardin's paternal grandmother, Joyce Hardin Gerrard, and stepmother, Jessica Mae Hardin, with murder in her death. Police say the 9-year-old girl was run to death as punishment for lying. Experts say the hundreds of messages posted online since Savannah died in February show the legal system has yet to catch up with the social media explosion. They say it highlights the difficulty of making sure witnesses and jurors aren't swayed by outside influences. (AP Photo/Family Photo, Patrick Blackwelder, File)

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.

Department spokesman Barry Spear says the older child has been placed with a relative, and the plan is for the infant to be given to the same relative when it leaves the hospital. Speak said he could not reveal with whom the children were placed.

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 where she was kept on life support while 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 on 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.

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Filed by Andy Campbell  |