SUMTER COUNTY, Fla. - A Sumter County jury has found Jaren Hare and Charles Darnell guilty of third-degree murder, manslaughter and child abuse in the death of a 2-year-old strangled by a pet python.
In the end, the jury did not buy the defense that this was just a terrible accident. They held the Sumter County couple guilty on all charges. It took the six-person jury less than two hours to reach a decision. Now the two will likely face serious prison time.
Darnell tried to comfort his sobbing girlfriend, Hare. The two embraced after a jury found them both responsible in the death of Hare's daughter Shaianna.
The foreperson from this jury did not want to be identified, but she offered insight how they reached the verdict. "Even under the most remote circumstances, it was possible that the child could be injured. And it was their duty to make sure there was no possibility that a 2-year-old would be bitten or anyway harmed."
The medical examiner testified the toddler was asphyxiated by burmese python two years ago. The prosecution told the jury the hungry snake named Gypsy escaped from his enclosure, outfitted with only a quilt as a lid.
While pointing at the couple, Pete Magrino, the Assistant State Attorney, said "The snake is not at fault in this case. It's a wild animal. The responsibility for the death of that child is those defendants right there."
Magrino also showed the jury two pictures. One of Shaianna as a happy child. The other was of her lifeless body with bite marks on her face. On July 1, 2009, investigators say the python escaped from it's tank and strangled the little girl to death. Authorities found the tank secured only by a quilt fastened with baby pins.
The defense argued all week that the snake was a family pet that had always been docile. Darnell's attorney said he had no idea the python would attack.
"He is not guilty of manslaughter. He is not guilty of murder. He's not guilty of neglecting that child. He is guilty making a stupid decision and having a stupid pet," said defense attorney Rhiannon Arnold.
Hare's attorney followed by saying the python had been a family pet for five years.
"If you have children around the house and it's a venomous snake and you don't put a secure lid on a venomous snake and it gets out and bites one of the kids, you should be punished. But Gypsy was a gentle snake," said defense attorney Ismael Solis.
The foreperson says they carefully went over Florida law on each count. And determined Hare and Darnell were guilty of 3rd degree murder, manslaughter and child neglect. "We feel extremely upset about having to make this decision, but we believe it was the correct one."
The defendants in this case were offered a plea deal for 10 years in prison, but turned it down.
Sentencing is set for August 24, and Darnell could face more time than Hale because he has 6 prior felony convictions.
Outside the courtroom, Shaianna's biological father, Joe Gilkerson said the verdict is a relief to him. "I'm glad to see justice served."
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