LARGO — After deliberating more than 13 hours Wednesday, an especially long time for a single day, a jury decided to come back this morning to consider the murder case against former Palm Harbor day care owner Stephanie Spurgeon.
Jurors began deliberating shortly after 9 a.m. and returned to the courtroom about 10:15 p.m. to tell Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Cynthia Newton they needed more time.
Spurgeon is accused of killing 1-year-old Maria Harris in August 2008, on Maria's first stay in the home day care.
For Spurgeon, it was a marathon day that began in court at 8:30 a.m. with the highest stakes possible.
If the jury had found her not guilty, she would have been allowed to go home free — without any obligation to come back to the courtroom. If she had been convicted of first-degree murder, she would have been sent to prison for life without the possibility of parole.
And it was just as much a marathon for Maria's mother, grandmother and grandfather, who waited in the courthouse as long Wednesday, and who have waited more than three years to see if Spurgeon would be held responsible for the death of their loved one.
Judge Newton stopped jurors about 9:30 p.m. to let them know they were allowed to go home for the night if they wished. They did, though one juror reportedly had a plane ticket to California in the morning.
Newton sternly warned jurors not to talk about the case or read or watch media accounts. "This is a court order — you can't have any discussions," she said.
Before jurors began deliberating, Newton told them that to convict Spurgeon of first-degree murder, they would have to conclude she was the person who killed the child and that the death resulted from her committing aggravated child abuse.
But because of a legal provision known as felony murder, it would not be necessary to prove she had intended to kill the girl.
Newton said jurors also would have the options of finding Spurgeon guilty of manslaughter or not guilty at all.
Family members have testified that they took a healthy Maria to Spurgeon's day care one August 2008 morning but that the girl was unresponsive when picked up that afternoon.
Doctors called by the prosecution and defense disagree about when Maria's injuries occurred, and the nature of those injuries.