Parents stand by accused Palm Harbor day care provider

LARGO — Palm Harbor day care provider Stephanie Spurgeon has been accused of murdering a 1-year-old child, but dozens of her friends and former customers flocked to the criminal courthouse Tuesday to stand by her.

Some believe in her so much they said they would still trust Spurgeon to care for their children.

"Without hesitation," said James Fogel, of Palm Harbor.

Parent Melissa Johnson said Spurgeon was "a great teacher" and had "never, not once," lost her temper while caring for her son.

"Her home was our child's second home, and her home is where she should be right now," Michael and Judy Dietz said in a letter presented to the court.

On Tuesday, Spurgeon, 37, received a chance to go home. After hearing testimony from both sides in the case, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Robert Morris Jr. set Spurgeon's bail at $350,000. She had been held without bail in the Pinellas County Jail since Nov. 8.

Friends and family are trying to raise the money, but attorney Gregory L. "Skip" Olney II said it will not be easy for them to gather that much. She remained in jail Tuesday night.

Another defense attorney, Donny Kilfin, promised in court that Spurgeon would not be tempted to flee if she is released.

"There is nothing that she wants more than her day in court on these charges," Kilfin said.

Spurgeon was in jail scrubs at Tuesday's hearing, and was not asked to speak. Family members of the victim also were in court.

Spurgeon is accused of shaking 1-year-old Maria Harris on Aug. 21, the very first day the girl spent in Spurgeon's home day care. She was severely injured sometime that day, and prosecutors say it was while in Spurgeon's care.

Although Spurgeon's friends and former clients can't believe she would ever have killed a child, the prosecution said there is evidence she did.

A Pinellas sheriff's detective said a 3-year-old boy said he had seen Spurgeon strike Maria on the day she was injured.

Assistant State Attorney J. Brian Daniels said a 13-year-old girl had recalled an incident when she was 7 and her younger sister was about 3 months. Spurgeon took the baby and "yelled at her to stop crying and shook her violently," Daniels said.

Daniels said the autopsy is not complete, but that the Medical Examiner's office thinks the cause of death likely will be listed as blunt force trauma.

Curtis Krueger can be reached at ckrueger@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8232.

Parents stand by accused Palm Harbor day care provider 12/23/08 [Last modified: Friday, December 26, 2008 10:21am]

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