Florida Couple Sentenced to 12 Years in Python Strangling of Daughter

Girl, 2, was strangled in her crib when severely underweight pet python escaped.

August 24, 2011, 3:58 PM

Aug. 24, 2011 — -- Florida python owners Jaren Hare and her boyfriend Charles Darnell were each sentenced to 12 years in prison today because the snake escaped from its cage and strangled Hare's 2-year-old daughter.

Hare, 21, and Darnell, 34, were convicted last month of third degree murder, manslaughter and child neglect.

The little girl, Shaianna, was killed two years ago when the couple's pet Burmese python escaped from its enclosure and strangled the girl in her crib. The snake's tank was only equipped with a quilt for a lid.

A medical examiner testified during the trial that the albino snake named Gypsy was underweight and trying to eat the girl. The snake hadn't been fed for a month when the girl died and was severely underweight at only 13 pounds, the Orlando Sentinel reported. The snake should have weighed nearly 150 pounds, the Sentinel reported.

Couple Gets 12 Years After Their Python Killed Girl

Jurors rejected the defense's argument that this was simply a terrible accident. The jury foreperson did not want to be identified but offered insight into how the verdict was reached.

"Even under the most remote circumstances, it was possible that the child could be injured. And it was their duty to make sure that there was no possibility that a 2-year-old would be bitten or in any way harmed… We feel extremely upset about having to make this decision, but we believe it was the correct one," the foreperson told ABC Affiliate WFTV.

After the verdict was read out, Darnell tried to comfort his sobbing girlfriend.

During the trial, Assistant State Attorney Pete Magrino showed the jury two photos of Shaianna, one where she was a smiling, happy child and another showing her lifeless body with bite marks on her face. He pointed at the couple and argued to the jury that "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."

Even Defendant's Mother Testified for Prosecution

Hare's mother testified for the state, saying she warned her daughter about the dangers of having the snake and even offered to buy it and keep it at her home and in a locked enclosure.

Hare's defense attorney, Ismael Solis, argued that the 8-foot-6 snake, had been a family pet for five years and had always been docile.

"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 bits one of the kids, you should be punished. But Gypsy was a gentle snake," Solis said during the trial.

Darnell's attorney argued, "He is not guilty of manslaughter. He is not guilty of murder. He's not guilty of neglecting that child. He is guilty of making a stupid decision and having a stupid pet."

But the jury did not buy it. "We also felt that, as the parents and caregivers, their responsibility was to preclude any chance that there could be an incident of any kind, because a 2-year-old could not protect herself," the foreperson told reporters after the trial.

Outside the courtroom, Shaianna's biological father, Joe Gilkerson, said justice was served and that he was bothered by Hare's lack of emotion throughout the four-day trial. "You got some times (in court) where she's got emotions and then some times where she looked like she could care less," Gilkerson told reporters. "I mean, that was our daughter. How can you have an emotionless face?"

Hare and Darnell are the parents of a daughter who was born about a month after Shaianna was strangled. It is not clear who is caring for the girl now.

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