A jury in Etowah County, Al., on Friday found that Joyce Hardin Garrard murdered her granddaughter, Savannah Hardin, 9, by running the girl death in the backyard in 2012, says the Christian Science Monitor. While the jury declined to send Garrard to death row, Judge Billy Ogletree has the option to order an execution. Alabama, Delaware, Florida allow judicial override of jury sentences to impose the death penalty. The option is rarely used in Florida and Delaware has abolished the death penalty, making Alabama, where judges are elected, the only state to use the option regularly.
Savannah collapsed and died in her grandmother's yard after being forced to run for hours as a punishment for lying about taking some candy and eating it. Five out of 12 jurors voted for the death penalty, while seven voted for life in prison without parole. Judge Ogletree may face pressure to change the sentence. Many Alabamians support execution for Garrard. Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, Alabama jury verdicts have been overridden 111 times, with 101 of those cases ending in the judge upgrading the verdict to death.