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Palm Harbor day care owner arrested in child's death

PALM HARBOR — A day care owner arrested in August on a count of aggravated child abuse now faces an even more serious charge: first-degree murder.

Stephanie M. Spurgeon, who ran a licensed day care out of her Palm Harbor home, was arrested by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office on Friday on accusations that she shook a 1-year-old girl and caused the girl's death.

The incident happened Aug. 21, when 1-year-old Maria Harris was dropped off at Spurgeon's day care.

According to an arrest report from the Sheriff's Office, Spurgeon and the girl's grandmother both agreed that the girl was healthy when she arrived for her first and last day at the day care. Spurgeon now disputes that.

When the girl's mother arrived at the end of the day to pick her up, Maria was unresponsive. The family called 911 and took the girl to the hospital, where she was treated for serious head injuries consistent with being shaken or a similar trauma, the Sheriff's Office said.

Spurgeon, 37, was arrested the next day, Aug. 22, on a charge of aggravated child abuse. She was bailed out Aug. 23.

Maria stayed in the hospital unresponsive for eight days before dying.

The Sheriff's Office continued to investigate after the girl's death. On Friday, Detective Kelly Lyons arrested Spurgeon at her home, 830 Edgehill Drive in Palm Harbor.

She is now being held at the Pinellas County Jail without bail.

The girl's grandmother, Patricia Harris, said the family had no comment.

Spurgeon's attorney, Gregory "Skip" Olney, said his client did nothing wrong.

He said the Sheriff's Office was acting independently of the State Attorney's Office and pointed out that no charges had been filed on the child abuse arrest from August let alone the murder arrest Friday.

(Law enforcement officers make arrests and then the cases go to the State Attorney's Office. In many cases, the State Attorney's Office decides to go through with the prosecution, but in other cases it concludes that the facts do not merit a prosecution.)

"We are still in the process of investigating ourselves," said Olney, "and we are hopeful that we will be able to convince the prosecutor not to file charges in this case."

He said Spurgeon did not harm the baby in any way: "If this baby was a shaken baby it happened either before or after Stephanie Spurgeon was with the baby."

Jonathan Abel can be reached at jabel@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4157.

Palm Harbor day care owner arrested in child's death 11/07/08 [Last modified: Friday, November 14, 2008 9:12pm]
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