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Python Trial: Jaren Hare and Charles Darnell found guilty in snake-related death of Shaiunna Hare

5:51 PM, Jul 14, 2011   |    comments
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  • An albino Burmese python is removed from a Florida home after it strangled and killed 2-year-old Shaiunna Hare in June, 2009.
    

 

Bushnell, Florida -- It took a jury of six about two hours of deliberations to find 34-year-old Charles Darnell and 21-year-old Jaren Hare guilty on all counts against them. 

Each was found guilty of manslaughter, third degree murder and child neglect in the death of Hare's 2-year-old daughter Shaiunna, who was killed after she was strangled by the family's pet python in 2009.

Photo Gallery: Python kills Florida toddler

Hare cried as she was walked out of the courtroom.

Sentencing is set for August 24 at 1 p.m.

"Justice was served.  I'm happy it was served," said the child's biological father, Joey Gilkerson.

One of the jurors who asked not to be identified said the decision was an emotional decision, but the right one and a decision they were collectively 100 percent comfortable with.

"They were responsible for the safety of a 2-year-old who could not provide for her own safety and they had every opportunity to have understanding that there was some kind of risk involved in having such a large animal that could, 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 two year old would either be bitten or harmed," said the juror.

Investigators say the python named Gypsy was starving, because it had not been fed in at least a month.

During closing arguments, prosecutors brought in the tank where Gypsy was kept.  A quilt placed on top and held together with clothespins was the only thing holding the snake inside the tank.

"Ridiculous," said prosecutor Peter Magrino, pointing to the tank.

Just prior to the child's death, investigators say the python had escaped, as it had done several times before, and was found in the hallway. 

Darnell allegedly found it, put the python in a mesh bag and back into its tank before going to sleep that night. Still, the python managed to escape and find its way to Shaiunna's crib about 12 feet away in the small trailer home.

Darnell woke up to find the python wrapped around the 2-year-old who had bite marks on her forehead. Even though he tried to kill the snake, it was too late.  Shaiunna was already gone.

In his closing arguments, Magrino called the couple "irresponsible caregivers" who housed a dangerous Burmese python improperly around the toddler, calling her death "needless, senseless and careless."

The prosecution also reminded the jury about Hare's mother's time on the stand when she testified that she had expressed concern about the snake being inside the home.  They even had a conversation about a snake in the Everglades that was pictured trying to eat an alligator, she testified.

The defense contended it was an accident, that the couple never imagined in their wildest dreams that the python would kill the child.

"There was no way for Mr. Darnell to have known the snake would do something like that," said defense attorney Rhiannon Arnold.

The defense attorney told the jury they're not guilty of third degree murder, manslaughter or child neglect, but of stupidity.

"He's not guilty of neglecting that child, he's guilty of making  a stupid decision of having a stupid pet.  That's what he's guilty of.  He's guilty of not being a dog lover and liking snakes," said Arnold. 

With the guilty verdicts, the couple now faces up to 35 years in prison.  

They previously turned down a plea bargain that would have sent them to prison for ten years.

"He didn't want to go to prison," Arnold told 10 News on Monday, "[He] didn't believe he's responsible, certainly not of murder or manslaughter."

While Darnell took responsibility for the care of the python, it was Jaren Hare's pet since she was 14 years old.  

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