BUSHNELL — Outside the courtroom, a young woman hugged her mother. The women hadn't spoken in six months. They pulled apart and the young woman wiped away a tear.
Then Jaren Hare, 21, made her way back into the courtroom to face manslaughter, third-degree murder and child neglect charges in the death of her 2-year-old daughter.
She sat down at the table. Directly in front of her stood two pieces of evidence. A large glass tank, draped in a pink patchwork quilt. A snake's length away: a white crib.
In July 2009, Hare's albino Burmese python, Gypsy, slinked out of that tank in the living room of Hare's mobile home in rural Oxford. The snake, underfed but still 8½ long, slid 12 feet into the child's bedroom, and wound its way into the crib. In the morning, Hare's boyfriend, Charles Jason Darnell, 34, found the snake coiled around the toddler, fang marks on her arms and on her forehead.
The case is the first in Florida in which a nonvenomous constrictor killed a child.
In his opening statement Tuesday, prosecutor Pete Magrino called the python an "instrument of death." Hare and Darnell are responsible for Shaianna's death, he said, because they did not have a proper enclosure for the snake and her death could have been prevented. The snake had not eaten in a month and had gotten out many times before — even that night when Darnell tripped over it on his way to the bathroom.
If convicted, the couple could face up to 35 years in prison.
Tuesday, just moments after they shared that hug, Hare's mother became the most damaging witness against her.
"It hurts real bad," Sheryl Hare said outside the courtroom. "I love her."
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Darnell and Hare still live together. They share another baby together. The little girl was born a month after Shaianna died. They are even being tried together and arrived at the courthouse together.
But they each have their own defense attorneys who at times seemed be at odds.
Darnell's attorney, Rhiannon Arnold, said the snake was Jaren's. She bought it when she was 14 years old. She raised it.
"The state alleges Mr. Darnell … was supposed to supervise a child that wasn't his and a snake that wasn't his," Arnold said, "and just because he dated Ms. Hare, he should be held criminally responsible for the killing of the child by the snake."
Jaren's attorney, Ismael Solis Jr., said the snake was a docile pet who had never been aggressive.
"The snake was like a puppy to her," said Solis, dressed in black cowboy boots and gold cuff links. "The snake was always out. It was like having a pit bull in the house and all of a sudden the pit bull goes crazy."
And while Jaren "was not the most articulate young woman," she shouldn't be held responsible for an accident.
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Hare's mother walked timidly up to the witness stand. She wore jeans, a blue blouse, flip-flops. Her shoulders were hunched as if she was uncomfortable.
She walked past the terrarium, the white crib, the bloody bunny rabbit-print sheets and the large photos of the corn-colored snake.
Not in court was Gypsy.
The snake is still alive although it weighed just 13½ pounds at the time of the attack and had a wound on its neck where Darnell had struck it with a cleaver, trying to pull it off the little girl.
The snake is in custody. Magrino did not bring it to court, saying he wasn't quite sure how the clerk would take care of it.
On the stand, Sheryl Hare recalled how she helped her daughter pick out the snake about seven years ago.
She had been selling citrus trees at a flea market. Jaren, whom she home schooled, saw a small albino Burmese python one row over and wanted it.
She spent $200 for it with money she earned helping her parents.
They kept it in a 7-foot enclosure that Jaren's father built. It was locked.
Jaren, who got a job cleaning homes, moved out and took the snake and another one with her. She had Shaianna and moved in with Darnell, who was not the baby's father.
At one point, Sheryl Hare observed that the snake was in a glass tank that was not locked.
"I talked to Jaren and begged her not to put it in the house," Sheryl Hare said. "It didn't have a lid on it. I even offered to buy it."
Sheryl Hare said she offered to have her husband make a lid for the snake's tank.
She told Jaren about the photo of the Burmese python in the Everglades that tried to eat the alligator and split in half.
What if the snake ate Shaianna?
"Why were you so concerned about the snake getting out of the container?" Magrino asked.
"Because I don't trust it," she responded. "We've got dogs. I don't trust dogs. I don't trust cats. I don't trust snakes no matter how tame they are. I wouldn't even trust a rabbit."
She said she brought rats to feed the snake because Jaren couldn't afford them.
After she testified, you could hear her flip-flops slapping against her feet as she exited.
She gazed over at her daughter, but Jaren stared straight ahead at the crib and the tank.
Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Times reporter Leonora LaPeter Anton can be reached at 727-893-8640.