Saturday, June 23, 2018
News Roundup

Murder trial begins for former Palm Harbor day care owner accused of shaking baby to death

LARGO — As the murder trial of Stephanie Spurgeon opened Tuesday, lawyers began their work by questioning dozens of people and selecting a jury.

But the key people in this case could be the doctors.

Spurgeon, 40, is a former Palm Harbor day care owner accused of killing a 1-year-old by shaking the girl to death.

But no one witnessed the child's injuries, and the fundamental science behind so-called "shaken baby syndrome" has come under attack in recent years. Even the name has been dropped by many medical professionals in favor of other terms such as "abusive head trauma."

This means the trial will likely become a battle of experts, with the prosecution's doctors blaming the death on Spurgeon and defense experts saying the child died from other causes.

The tone became clear earlier, during a pretrial interview, when a prosecutor asked Chicago physician Jan Leestma, "Is there anything else that you think I should know on this particular area of medicine?"

"Yeah," the doctor said. "Go to medical school. Do a residency and be in the field for 40 years."

That wasn't quite possible for the prosecutor and it won't be possible for jurors picked to decide this case. They will have to view pictures of the girl's brain and listen to complicated testimony about what killed her, and whether her injuries could have been incurred before she ever came to the day care.

On Tuesday, defense attorney Bjorn Brunvand reminded potential jurors they had all promised "that you can in fact presume her innocent. Is that accurate?"

They agreed.

The case dates to August 2008, when 1-year-old Maria Harris was dropped off at Spurgeon's in-home day care at 830 Edgehill Drive in Palm Harbor.

But when her mother arrived at the end of the day, Maria was unresponsive. The family called 911 and took the girl to the hospital, where she was treated for serious head injuries. She died eight days later.

Spurgeon initially was arrested on a charge of aggravated child abuse, and later was indicted on a first-degree murder charge.

In spite of that, some friends and supporters have stood strongly by her. In a court hearing later in 2008, some former clients said that in spite of the murder charge, they would still have trusted Spurgeon to look after their children.

Unlike many murder defendants, Spurgeon was allowed out of the Pinellas County Jail, on $350,000 bail. She remains free while attending the trial.

This case bears some similarities to another Pinellas case against a former St. Petersburg foster mother, Tenesia Brown. Brown also was charged with first-degree murder, after authorities said she shook a 14-month-old child. Her attorney was Ron Kurpiers, who now is representing Spurgeon. Brown was found not guilty in her 2010 trial, a relatively rare occurrence in a first-degree murder case.

The Spurgeon trial continues today and is expected to last into next week.

Curtis Krueger can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8232.

Comments
First step for Hillsborough schools facing biggest challenges: Hire more teachers

First step for Hillsborough schools facing biggest challenges: Hire more teachers

TAMPA ó As chief of diversity for the Hillsborough County School District, Minerva Spanner-Morrow tries to keep her expectations realistic."We want the best of the best and I know thatís very difficult," she told principals last week as they prepared...
Published: 06/23/18
Rodney Pageís takeaways from Rays-Yankees

Rodney Pageís takeaways from Rays-Yankees

1. SS Willy Adames had a nice night, and there appear to be many more in his future. He had two hits, an RBI and an inning-ending leaping catch on a line drive by Didi Gregorius in the fifth.2. DH C.J. Cron needs to shake things up. Take a different ...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Marc Anthony pays a visit to the Trop

Marc Anthony pays a visit to the Trop

By Allana BarefieldTimes Staff WriterST. PETERSBURG — Latin pop star Marc Anthony visited Tropicana Field on Friday to see his beloved Yankees play the Rays.Anthony spent nearly an hour on the field before the game as fans and players surrounde...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Rays journal: Daniel Robertsonís return crowds up infield

Rays journal: Daniel Robertsonís return crowds up infield

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays reinstated INF Daniel Robertson from the 10-day disabled list (left hamstring strain). To make room, RHP Austin Pruitt was sent to Triple-A Durham."It's out of my mind. I don't think about (the hamstring) when I'm bend...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Brady Singer, Gators eliminated by Arkansas at CWS

Brady Singer, Gators eliminated by Arkansas at CWS

Times wiresOMAHA, Neb.  —Defending champion Florida failed to win a third straight elimination game, losing to Arkansas 5-2 Friday night and departing the College World Series.The Gators (49-21) had to win to force a rematch. The Razorback...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Rays hang on for a 2-1 win over Yankees

Rays hang on for a 2-1 win over Yankees

ST. PETERSBURG – Many times this season the Rays' strategy of opening the game with a short reliever and using the bullpen to finish hasn't had much success.Friday wasn't one of those nights.A total of six pitchers held the Yankees and their va...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Rowdies fall to Penn FC

Rowdies fall to Penn FC

By Darek SharpTimes CorrespondentST. PETERSBURG — For the second time this season, Penn FC got two goals from a former Rowdie that led the way to a win over Tampa Bay.Lucky Mkosana doubled his season total Friday in a comeback 2-1 win before an...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Ronald Darbyís friend: Jameis Winston got into second Uber ride alone

Ronald Darbyís friend: Jameis Winston got into second Uber ride alone

New details emerged Friday night about the Uber ride in Arizona in March 2016 that led to Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston's three-game suspension to start the upcoming season, including the fact that Winston was in a car that night with a former Vand...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Tampa boy, 14, shot on bike, police asking for help

Tampa boy, 14, shot on bike, police asking for help

TAMPA ó Police want to know who shot 14-year-old DeíNico Thomas after a night of playing video games.Thomas was at a friendís home Wednesday night and walking home when Tampa police said he was shot, resulting in life-threatening injuries.As he faces...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Carlton: That snake-like thing living under your refrigerator? Itís a skink. Welcome to Florida

Carlton: That snake-like thing living under your refrigerator? Itís a skink. Welcome to Florida

At first I thought it was a snake.Because wouldnít it be typically Florida to come home and find a snake poking its nose out from under your stove? Which wouldnít be a problem or anything. I would just have to move out is all.But no, the creature tha...
Published: 06/22/18