By JAY REEVES, The Associated Press
GADSDEN, Ala. (AP) — A defense attorney said Friday a plea deal may be in the works for the stepmother of a 9-year-old Alabama girl who prosecutors say was run to death as punishment for lying.
Richard Rhea indicated during a court hearing that talks between Jessica Mae Hardin, 28, and prosecutors may be under way. Rhea represents the dead girl's grandmother, Joyce Hardin Garrard, 47.
Authorities say Garrard forced Savannah Hardin to run for about three hours in February as punishment for a lie, and Hardin failed to intervene. The girl collapsed and died three days later. Both women say they are innocent.
Hardin is charged with murder, which carries a possible life sentence, while Garrard is charged with capital murder, which could result in a death sentence. Plea negotiations in cases involving two or more defendants often include an agreement for one person to testify against the other.
Rhea mentioned the possibility of a deal after District Attorney Jimmie Harp told Circuit Judge William Ogletree that both women didn't necessarily need to be present for future hearings in their cases.
Rhea said it would violate Garrard's constitutional rights not to be notified when Hardin was due in court. Harp's request "almost doesn't pass the smell test," he said.
"There's a deal in the works. Somebody's about to get some quid pro quo," Rhea said.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers quickly began yelling across the courtroom at each other until Ogletree stepped in.
"Sit down everybody!" he shouted from the bench. "I respect your abilities very much, but we're not going to turn this into a circus!"
Ogletree adjourned the hearing, leaving relatives of the two women seated in the audience. Another lawyer for Garrard, Dane Bone, walked to the front of the seating area and told them any plea by Hardin wouldn't hurt the older woman since she would "just say what happened" at the house that day.
The judge didn't rule on a defense request to lower Hardin's bond, now set at $500,000. But he did order prosecutors to provide both women with complete copies of a video recording that they initially submitted without the audio.
Lawyers didn't specify what the videotape contained. But during a previous hearing, prosecutors revealed that a school bus surveillance camera captured video and audio of Garrard telling the driver how she was going to punish Savannah for lying to her.
Prosecutors said the recording captured Garrard saying, "I gonna run her `til she can't run no more."