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Couple sentenced to 12 years each for allowing pet python to kill 2-year-old child

BUSHNELL — Jaren Hare first spotted the corn-colored albino Burmese python at a flea market.

As a teenager, Hare bought the snake with $200 she had earned working for her parents. She named it Gypsy and called it her pet.

Wednesday afternoon — about seven years later — prosecutor Pete Magrino stood just feet from Hare in a Sumter County courtroom and called the snake an "instrument of death."

Gypsy, a jury decided last month, had killed Hare's 2-year-old daughter because the 21-year-old and her boyfriend, Charles "Jason" Darnell, neglected to properly enclose the snake. At the time, they housed the animal in a tank covered only by a pink patchwork quilt.

Circuit Judge William H. Hallman III on Wednesday sentenced both of them to 12 years in prison and five years of probation on a charge of manslaughter. The defendants had declined a pretrial offer that would have capped their sentences at 10 years.

"You both were keeping a wild animal, a wild animal which is dangerous," said Hallman, who noted the snake often roamed free around the house. "Any reasonable person would realize that creates a grave danger."

In July 2009, the python slithered out of its tank in the living room of Hare's mobile home in the northern Sumter town of Oxford. The severely underfed, 81/2-foot-long snake then glided into the child's bedroom and slipped into the crib.

Soon after, Gypsy coiled around the little girl, Shaianna, and asphyxiated the toddler as it tried to eat her. The snake had not been fed in a month and had escaped its enclosure many times — even that night, when Darnell tripped over it on his way to the bathroom.

The case is the first in Florida in which a nonvenomous constrictor killed a child.

Both wearing green- and white-striped jumpsuits, Hare and Darnell sat together at the defense table during Wednesday's hearing. Darnell, 34, often sobbed as the attorneys debated the sentence before the judge made his decision. Hare, her hair pulled back in a ponytail, stared straight ahead and showed little emotion during most of the discussion.

When Hallman announced the sentence, she cried.

Both judgments fell short of what Magrino had requested. The prosecutor asked that Hare receive a 15-year term with the Florida Department of Corrections and that Darnell get 30 years, in part because of his drug-related criminal history.

"This case is about parental responsibility," Magrino said to the judge, "and they totally abdicated their parental responsibility to provide a safe place for the child." Both Darnell and Hare pleaded for mercy.

"I would just like to say that I'm very sorry for what happened," said Darnell, barely able to speak between tears. "If I could take it back, I would."

In her brief statement, Hare reiterated the defense's long-standing argument: Her daughter's death was an accident.

"I will always miss her," Hare said, "and feel the pain from everything that's happened."

As they had at trial, both defense attorneys argued their clients were, essentially, incompetent and deserved a lighter sentence because of it.

"No mother would put a child, her 2-year-old child, in the middle of such danger if she recognized the danger," said Hare's lawyer, Ismael Solis Jr. "We don't all have the same IQs."

During trial, Hare's mother, Sheryl Hare, testified that she had noticed her daughter was keeping the snake in an unlocked glass tank.

"I talked to Jaren and begged her not to put it in the house," Mrs. Hare said. "It didn't have a lid on it. I even offered to buy it."

She also proposed having her husband make a lid for the enclosure.

When Magrino asked why she was so concerned about Gypsy escaping, Mrs. Hare told the court she didn't trust the animal.

"I don't trust snakes," she said, "no matter how tame they are."

After the hearing, Darnell's attorney, Rhiannon Arnold, re-emphasized to reporters that Shaianna's death was an accident. Neither defendant, she said, should have been imprisoned for what happened. The lawyer said she would appeal both conviction and sentence.

In fact, Arnold said before the throng of news cameras, she believed the two suspects suffered because of Casey Anthony's high-profile acquittal, which was announced in Orlando just one week before Hare and Darnell were convicted.

Anthony had been charged with murdering her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee. The verdict sparked a national backlash from thousands who believed she was guilty.

Although Arnold based her comments on speculation, the lawyer told reporters she was certain that in the aftermath of the Anthony decision, the jurors in her client's case did not want to acquit two more people accused of allowing a young child to die.

Couple sentenced to 12 years each for allowing pet python to kill 2-year-old child 08/24/11 [Last modified: Thursday, August 25, 2011 12:25am]
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