GADSDEN, Ala. — Two women pleaded not guilty Wednesday in the death of a 9-year-old Alabama girl who authorities say was run to death as punishment for lying.
The arraignment of the girl's 46-year-old grandmother Joyce Hardin Garrard and 27-year-old stepmother Jessica Mae Hardin took place in Etowah County Circuit Judge William Ogletree's courtroom.
Authorities say Savannah Hardin collapsed and later died after being forced to run and haul debris for three hours as punishment for a lie about candy. Attorneys for both women say they are innocent and predict they'll be vindicated.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Garrard. Hardin faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment if convicted.
Neither Garrard nor Hardin spoke during the hearing, instead letting their lawyers enter the pleas of not guilty.
Garrard shook her head as District Attorney Jimmie Harp read an indictment accusing her of killing the child by forcing her to run and carry wood in her yard. Hardin's face was red as though she had been crying.
Noting the heavy press coverage the case has received, Ogletree issued an order reminding lawyers of state rules that limit out-of-court comments by attorneys and others involved in cases.
"This case has been attempted to be tried somewhat in the court of public opinion," Ogletree said. The judge said his reminder -- which amounted to a gag order -- was intended to protect both the prosecution and the defense, and particularly the defendants' rights.
"There will be no rush to judgment in these cases," said Ogletree.
Afterward, lawyers in the cases wouldn't talk to reporters.
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