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Parents Face Jail Time After Pet Python Kills Daughter

OXFORD, Florida ~ (Orlando Sentinel/UK Daily Mail/AP) ~ Two parents face multiple felony charges in the accidental death of their daughter who was killed by their pet snake.

21-year-old Jaren Hare and her boyfriend, 34-year-old Charles Darnell appeared in Sumter County Court in Bushnell, Florida and are charged in the death of 2-year-old Shaianna Hare, who was found dead in her cot in July of 2009. Their 8-foot albino Burmese python, Gypsy, was wrapped around the child's body with its mouth clamped on her forehead. Investigators say that the snake had not been fed for at least a month and was kept in an aquarium tank with only a duvet quilt thrown over the top, loosely secured with bungee cords and clothespins to try to prevent escape.

Friends and family had offered to buy the unemployed couple a more secure enclosure for the animal or to keep it for them because they were worried that they couldn't feed it and for the safety of Shaianna, but their offers were refused. The snake's last meal had been a squirrel that was found dead on the road. State attorney Peter Magrino says the snake may have been the instrument of death nut it was Hare and Darnell showed "reckless disregard" and that Shaianna died from criminal neglect by the couple. Gypsy had slithered out of her tank five times in four weeks, including the night before the child was found dead, when Darnell found the snake in the hallway and popped it back in the tank. The next morning he found Gypsy wrapped around the child's lifeless body; he stabbed the snake several times with a six-inch knife and a meat cleaver, but it was too late to save Shaianna.

Legal experts have likened the couple's failure to keep the snake in a more-secure location to keeping a loaded firearm lying around in the house. But Darnell's defense lawyer, Rhiannon Arnold, told the court that Shaianna's death was a "terrible accident" and that Gypsy, which Hare had purchased when she was 14 for $200 at a flea market, was such a beloved pet that the couple had no reason to think there was a danger. The snake even rode in the front seat of the car when they went out and was treated like the family dog, according to Arnold.

A post-mortem examination reported that Shaianna died from asphyxiation by the no-venomous python, which constricts around its prey until they can no longer breathe. Hare and Darnell are both charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter of a child, both which carry a maximum sentence of 15 years, and felony child neglect which in punishable for up to 5 years. Prosecutors offered them a plea deal that would have capped their sentences at ten years each, but both rejected the offer. The trial will be heard by Judge William Hallman and is expected to last a week. Gypsy recovered from her wounds in a wildlife center but will not appear in court as evidence, and instead jurors will be shown photos of the animal. Prosecutor Magrino told the Orlando Sentinel, "I don't want a circus, the snake's not on trial here."

Photo credit: Associated Press

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