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Mother, boyfriend charged with murder in case of 2-year-old killed by python

OXFORD — This is how 2-year-old Shaiunna Hare died: The little girl was slowly crushed to death by an 8 ½-foot albino Burmese python that crept into her crib, coiled around the child and bit her again and again as it squeezed the life out of her.

This is who authorities now blame for Shaiunna's death: her own mother.

Jaren Hare and her live-in boyfriend, Charles Darnell, were arrested Monday on charges of third-degree murder, manslaughter and child abuse.

The 5th Judicial Circuit State Attorney's Office filed the charges Monday after a two-month investigation revealed that the Sumter County couple could have prevented Shaiunna's death any number of ways.

Interviews with family members and friends revealed that the snake was not kept in a secure enclosure, as mandated by law, and escaped repeatedly even before the girl's death on July 1, authorities said.

Friends of the family even had offered to keep the snake locked in a cage, authorities said, but the mother and boyfriend declined their help.

"It's just a tragic set of circumstances that due to the reckless conduct on behalf of adults, a small child lost her life," said Assistant State Attorney Peter Magrino, who prosecutes homicides in Citrus, Hernando and Sumter counties.

After the girl's death, the snake was described as a family pet. Previous reports said Darnell, who is not Shaiunna's father, was the owner.

But now authorities say the snake actually belonged to Hare.

• • •

The morning Shaiunna died, the boyfriend awoke to find the pet snake missing from its enclosure.

It was not the first time. Just hours before, Darnell had found the snake loose in the living room, he later told investigators.

He said he put the snake in a sack, covered the terrarium with a quilt and tied it down with string.

When Darnell awoke again, the python was again missing.

This time, authorities said, he found it in Shaiunna's room, wrapped around the child.

Darnell stabbed the snake with a knife and meat cleaver. It let go of Shaiunna and slithered away.

"The baby's dead," a sobbing Darnell told a 911 operator. "Our stupid snake got out in the middle of the night and strangled the baby."

The girl had bites to her head, torso and upper shoulder.

Five men entered the house to get the snake. It was still alive and has been kept alive as evidence. Authorities also removed a 6-foot red-tail boa constrictor named Dixie.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said it may be the first child in the state killed by a nonvenomous constrictor.

Darnell lost a child to meningitis five years ago, according to the Sumter County Sheriff's Office, and is the father of the child Hare is carrying.

"It's not guilt," Darnell told the Orlando Sentinel about how he felt after Shaiunna's death. "It's remorse and grief. I'll never have another (snake).

"It was a terrible, awful accident."

• • •

The authorities believe it was something else.

State law says a python has to be registered and kept in a locked container. The snake that killed Shaiunna was neither secured nor registered.

The Department of Children and Families removed two other children from the Sumter County home after Shaiunna's death. Hare was pregnant at the time of Shaiunna's death, but gave birth before her arrest this week. Her infant is in foster care, the state said.

The couple was already on DCF's radar.

In May an investigator checked out complaints that the couple used and sold drugs such as meth, cocaine, marijuana and ecstasy. The complaint said that Darnell was intemperate and foul-mouthed, Hare was "high all the time" and the children were being abused.

But the investigator found no evidence of abuse.

State records show that Darnell was arrested by Sumter County deputies on drug charges before and after Shaiunna's death.

• • •

After the arrest warrants for the couple were issued Monday, Jaren Hare, 19, turned herself in at the Wildwood Police Department. Sheriff's detectives arrested her and took her to the Sumter County Detention Center in Bushnell.

There she joined the 32-year-old Darnell, who was already being held on charges that he sold cocaine and marijuana and possessed methamphetamine.

Hare's bail was set at $35,000. Darnell was being held without bail.

Both third-degree felony murder and manslaughter carry up to 15-year sentences. Prosecutors will be able to present only one charge to a jury.

Under the felony murder statute, prosecutors can charge suspects with murder if a death occurred in the commission of another crime. In this case the other crime is child abuse.

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6114.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Two children were taken by relatives from the home of Jaren Hare and Charles Darnell after Hare's daughter was crushed to death by a python. Hare was pregnant at the time of the death but gave birth before her arrest this week in the girl's death. A report Tuesday was incorrect on these points. Hare's newborn is in foster care, the state said.

Mother, boyfriend charged with murder in case of 2-year-old killed by python 08/24/09 [Last modified: Thursday, August 27, 2009 9:55am]
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