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Girl, 9, Dies After Forced to Run for 3 Hours

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By Andrew Chow, Esq. on February 23, 2012 5:11 AM

Nine-year-old Savannah Hardin died after being forced to run for three hours as punishment, investigators say. The girl's grandmother and stepmother are facing murder charges.

The women forced the Alabama third grader to run non-stop, as punishment for lying about eating a candy bar, a sheriff's spokeswoman told the Associated Press. Savannah had a medical condition, and she wasn't supposed to eat candy, authorities said.

After allegedly being forced to run as punishment, Savannah suffered a seizure and later died at a hospital, the AP reports. An autopsy found Savannah was extremely dehydrated and had very low sodium levels. Her death was ruled a homicide.

Savannah Hardin's grandmother, Joyce Hardin Garrard, 46, and her stepmom, Jessica Mae Hardin, 27, both of Attalla, Ala., were arrested in connection with the 9-year-old's death. Savannah may have been forced to run by physical coercion, or by verbal commands, authorities told the AP.

"We're still interviewing neighbors and other people who may have witnessed the incident of the child running," the district attorney told CNN. "We'll make a determination whether to upgrade these charges to capital murder."

State laws often differentiate murder charges by degree. In general, first-degree murder is both willful and premeditated, while second-degree murder is either not premeditated, or is the result of a defendant's reckless conduct or wanton disregard for human life.

A homicide can also be charged as voluntary manslaughter, if a killing occurs in the "heat of passion"; or involuntary manslaughter, if a killing is not on purpose, but results from reckless or negligent behavior.

In some states like Alabama, capital murder charges can be filed in certain cases -- for example, when a victim is under 14 years of age. Alabama carries out capital punishment by electrocution.

Savannah Hardin's grandmother and stepmother are in jail in lieu of $500,000 bond. The stepmother, who was pregnant at the time of her murder arrest, gave birth while in custody, CNN reports.

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