Pet python kills baby: Should parents be criminally charged?

Law enforcement officials remove a Burmese python,  measuring more than 8 feet long, from the home where it killed 2-year-old Shaunnia Hare in Oxford, Fla. on Wednesday morning, July 1, 2009. The Sumter County Sheriff's Office said Charles Jason Darnell, the snake's owner and the boyfriend of Shaunnia's mother, discovered the snake missing from its aquarium and went to the girl's room, where he found it on the girl and bite marks on her head. Darnell, 32, stabbed the snake until he was able to pry the child away. (AP Photo/St. Petersburg Times, Will Vragovic)

Law enforcement officials remove a Burmese python, measuring more than 8 feet long, from the home where it killed 2-year-old Shaunnia Hare in Oxford, Fla. on Wednesday morning, July 1, 2009. (AP Photos)

You may have seen the very upsetting story from Florida about the 8 ½-foot-long pet Burmese python that escaped from its glass aquarium in the living room, slithered into a 2-year-old’s bedroom, coiled itself around the baby and killed it.

Now the question is: Should the parents be criminally charged and if so, to what extent?

Ocala.com reports: The parents, 32-year-old Charles Jason Darnell and 23-year-old Jaren Ashley Hare, could face charges ranging from child abuse to aggravated manslaughter. Or no charges at all.

Prosecutors will carefully assess to what degree culpable negligence played a part in the child’s death.

“Culpable negligence is defined as involving acts of such ‘gross and flagrant character’ to evince ‘reckless disregard of human life or of the safety of persons.’ ”

” ‘If [Darnell] is a caregiver and if he acted with culpable negligence, they could consider a charge for aggravated manslaughter of a child,’ said Kendall Coffey, a former U.S. attorney from South Florida, raising one hypothetical scenario.”

Manslaughter, a first-degree felony, is punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

“But by his accounts, Stetson University criminal law professor Robert Batey believes culpable negligence can be ‘a fairly difficult standard to reach.’ ”

” ‘Maybe the parents here used pretty poor judgment, but [the state may determine] it doesn’t rise to the level of culpable negligence,’ he said.

“Such factors in reaching a decision, Batey added, include how secure the python’s cage was to the proximity of the cage to the baby’s crib to factual reports that the python had escaped once earlier in the night and was placed back in its cage by the father.”

What do you think: Was it completely beyond their control, just poor judgment, or did they do something criminally wrong? Would you think differently if a large dog attacked and killed the child? Have the parents been punished enough just knowing their pet killed their baby? (I can’t even imagine living with that! I want to go up and check my 2-year-old right now!) What would an appropriate punishment be?


109 comments Add your comment

penguinmom

July 13th, 2009
12:08 am

They have already received a life sentence. Nothing the state could do to them will be any worse than living with their child’s death nor will it bring back the baby. Prosecuting them will not serve any purpose since it will not serve as a deterrent to other parents with poor judgment.

It is a very sad situation.

Ex-Atlantan

July 13th, 2009
12:48 am

Not enough info to judge. Could the people have predict the snake would get out — for example, had it escaped before? Or did they take reasonable precautions, and something really weird happened? Those are the sorts of questions you have to answer. Just having a snake in the house probably isn’t enough for a charge — all houses have things in them that could kill a toddler — so the question is how they handled the snake.

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deidre_NC

July 13th, 2009
6:29 am

as many things that there are that can hurt a child…things we pretty much have to have…why even think of having something around that isnt totally neccessary when you have small children. as for being charged…i dont think there are laws against stupidity-too bad for that. i do feel sorry for theseparents…how horrible..what a nightmare…but geeze–keep potentially dangerous ‘pets’ away from kids…i have known people who own snakes and everyone of them escaped at some point…what a sad tragic thing.

MomsRule

July 13th, 2009
6:50 am

Based upon the info provided here it sounds like an accident. Dogs/cats etc can all harm/kill children. Should all parents be held criminally negligent when a tragic accident like this occurs? I think not. Its easy for people that have no desire to own a snake to blame the parents. “They should not have had one.” You have the same risk with a dog. ALL dogs can be potentially dangerous. Now if facts come to light that the python roamed free or escaped regularly my opinion would change.

Andrea

July 13th, 2009
7:38 am

In looking at the information as it has been presented, this seems like a terrible, terrible accident. I agree without all of the facts, it is hard to judge the case fairly. The parents have already been dealt a life sentence anyway.

amari's mom

July 13th, 2009
7:51 am

am i the only one that wished amusement centers (6 flags, whitewater, etc.) had chaperone’s pricing! they miss out on my money because i don’t feel i should have to pay full price just to walk around the park while my daughter rides the rides…give me an armband or a stamp that indicates i can’t ride rides (the reason why i don’t want to pay – i don’t ride the rides!) and let me in to buy souvenirs and junk food! $ 5.00 sounds good…!

JJ

July 13th, 2009
8:28 am

I am TOTALLY against owning exotic animals of any kind. Animals like snakes, birds, etc need to be in the wild, not in a cage. They are not domesticated animals.

While I’m sorry for this family’s loss, what will happen to the snake? Will it get destroyed for being a snake and doing what comes naturally? Will it be destroyed because it acted on instinct?

What a shame, but you just shouldn’t have “pets” like this with children of any age. Snakes are NOT pets. They should NOT be stuck in a cage.

Monica

July 13th, 2009
8:28 am

It was an accident mainly because I don’t think the parents wanted the snake to escape and harm the child. However, I do think it was negligent. Why have such an animal in close proximity of a young child, who is basically helpless? What is the difference between negligence in this case and negligence in leaving a child in a car while you shop at Wal-Mart?

Kaye

July 13th, 2009
8:37 am

They had not feed the snake for a month, had the snake in an unsecure case and left the snake and baby unwatched…yes they should be charged and FIXED! They abused the snake and allowed the child to be killed. They should not be allowed to have animals or children ever again!

J.D.

July 13th, 2009
8:37 am

I agree totally with the way PenguinMom summed it up. They’ve suffered a penalty far worse than anything else. Maybe this sad event will make other parents reassess their situations and take the necessary actions.

bufordmomof4

July 13th, 2009
8:38 am

As long as it was contained properly and safely, then I think it was just a horrible accident. I have much more of an issue with families who keep dangerous dogs around their children. How many kids have to be mauled before people wake up?

new mom

July 13th, 2009
8:44 am

I am reading the others’ comments, and yes, there are dangers in every house. We have to make sure the bath water isn’t too hot, the furniture is strapped to the walls, etc. But my mind keeps coming back to–dang, an 8 foot python? Isn’t that just asking for trouble? I would have to categorize that as an unnecessary risk. I mean, at some point, they had to realize they were risking their very child’s life.

As far as criminal charges, I don’t know what I think. Like Deidre said, there are no laws against stupid. I’m not sure that charges would help this particular situation, or make other people realize that they could face the same fate (’that would never happen to us’….)

Jessica

July 13th, 2009
8:45 am

I don’t know about the legality of it, but it is wrong and stupid to keep as a pet any animal that might view a family member as prey.

Paddy

July 13th, 2009
8:45 am

Charge them with negligence not manslaughter. Let them do a couple years in jail and then have the rest of their life to think about it. What a couple of MAROONS. Hope they don’t move to Ga., we already have plenty like them here already.

catlady

July 13th, 2009
8:46 am

Would it be a “horrible accident” if they kept a loaded gun where the 2 year old might get it? A gun’s “role” is to shoot. A python’s “role, ie instinct” is to kill to eat. What exactly is the difference?

Some things are more dangerous than others. Keeping a constrictor around anyone is one of them.

This from someone whose son was horribly hurt in a true freak accident.

SP

July 13th, 2009
8:49 am

Am I the only one who thinks the parents were negligent? The parents have to ensure the safety of their children. To me, these parents had the equivalent of a loaded gun in their house. Accidents will happen, but if you can prevent it, it’s not an “accident”. I had to give away a great dog I had loved for years because he started to get aggressive after our first baby. I loved the dog, but loved my baby more.

motherjanegoose

July 13th, 2009
8:51 am

@ Kaye: They abused the snake and allowed the child to be killed. They should not be allowed to have animals or children ever again!

We could fill in any animal’s name for snake….like this is going to ever happen? What about those who live in a drug induced stupor and have kids or pets? Or those who continue to have kids and no means to care for them.

Having lived on the farm as a girl, I cannot imagine having snakes inside…maybe it is just me.

Aren’t some animals typically considered domestic (ated)? Are pythons?

JJ: I thought you were at the beach?

motherjanegoose

July 13th, 2009
8:57 am

KICK me….here is the answer to my question, I googled it:
A domestic animal is an animal that can live with Human.
Such as dogs, cats, rats, snakes, lizards, turtles, ect
A domesticated animal is any animal that depends on a human for food, water and shelter this includes farm animals such as cattle, horses, sheep, etc… as well as dogs and cats and other house pets.

Gina

July 13th, 2009
8:57 am

I agree with JJ, I can guarantee you the snake will be destroyed for doing what it’s instinct tells it to do. Just like dogs when a child goes in a fence which is the dog’s territory and the dog bites or kills the child…Who’s punished the dog….THAT MY FRIENDS IS NOT FAIR…. Poor snake didn’t need to be in a container anyway……Hope god takes care of all animals that are destroyed because of stupidity……

Just a Thought

July 13th, 2009
9:07 am

I think people should be required to obtain a permit to keep any egzotic pet. A permit should be given only to people who want to keep an egzotic pet AND are educated about such pet AND have proper conditions to do so. Snakes became more of a “fashion statement” lately and many people buy them in a store without even knowing much about dangers of keeping such animal. I lived in the NYC and we had an incident where a python escaped from its cage and somehow in a month neighbors living 5 floors up found it. The point is that once you have a snake, entire building/street may be in danger. That python could have travelled a few doors down and killed someone else’s baby.

From what i read, the step-father killed the snake the minute he saw it. I think these people were already punished. They did not harm the baby intentionally. I believe it was a very sad accident.

Becky

July 13th, 2009
9:11 am

Like others, its hard for me to say what shoud happen to these to..Reading this blog is the first that I’ve heard of this..Deidre, I’m so with you..You can’t fix stupid, I’ve been trying for years with some of my family…Hopefully, this was just an accident and they will learn from this..If they find out that this wasn’t an accident,then yes they should be charged with something..

Professor

July 13th, 2009
9:12 am

Ok, I read this article and I really feel bad for the child. I cannot imagine the pain that baby went through. As for the parents they will carry a sentence for the rest of their lives so I do not see the need to charge them any further.

@ Gina I agree with you about animals being punished for doing what is natural.

JATL

July 13th, 2009
9:15 am

I think they’ve been punished enough. I also think they’re idiots, but hey -when did that stop anyone from breeding? Our judicial and prison systems are overrun enough without taking people who actually aren’t criminals and turning them into criminals. It would be different if they put the snake in the crib with the baby. They obviously should have exercised better judgement in securing the snake (or having one at all), but they don’t deserve a long, drawn-out trial and prison. They’ll live with this for the rest of their lives.

motherjanegoose

July 13th, 2009
9:19 am

JATL….would you please answer the question I directed to you on Friday’s post? Thanks!

Mo's mom

July 13th, 2009
9:23 am

Animals were designed to be pets in the first place. They need to be left in their natural habitats.

Mo's mom

July 13th, 2009
9:24 am

Correction: Animals were NOT designed to be pets in the first place. They need to be left in their natural habitats.

JJ

July 13th, 2009
9:26 am

MJG – vacation starts Wednesday…….two more days……

ant banks

July 13th, 2009
9:31 am

Yes, charge the parents. Because of their ignorance or stupidity, a baby has died and the snake will probably be destroyed, too. The loss of 2 lives at the hand of these adults and you all don’t want anyone charged? wtf?

Brian

July 13th, 2009
9:32 am

Electric chair for the parents! Obviously, they are and will never be any good to the society. A python as a pet? WHY? At least chemical castration should be considered so they will never spawn another one.

motherjanegoose

July 13th, 2009
9:37 am

JJ…have fun! Mo’s mom…are you talking about ALL animals? Sorry but we love our dog and she thinks she is a person LOL.

Jim n Buckhead

July 13th, 2009
9:38 am

This family lost their baby which is awful. However, why is owning a python any different then owning a tiger or a monkey…they are wild animals and should not be pets…people can barely handle dogs and cats with a baby or little ones in the house you have to be carefull as well…..my sister n law has a pit bull they swear up and down how sweet he is but I wont let my kids near that dog…and the one time he was when I was not there he bit my kid….they were just playing but he bit him on the leg…

Professor

July 13th, 2009
9:38 am

I wonder when the last time the snake had been fed? I thought pythons only ate like once a week or something—–> did the parents forget to feed the snake? How long had the snake been out? I mean common sense would tell a fool that an 8 1/2 foot python out of the cage (possibly hungry) is going for the child.

ntuj

July 13th, 2009
9:52 am

People that cage wild animals are idiots period. The stupid parents deserve it. I hope they have more children and raise an alligator or a more aggressive reticulating python next time.

Stan

July 13th, 2009
9:53 am

From the article: “The Humane Society of the United States said including Wednesday’s death, at least 12 people have been killed in the U.S. by pet pythons since 1980″

It was an accident. They could have done a better job of securing the snake in its aquarium, but in the end it was just a horrible accident that the folks will have to live with for the rest of their lives.

I also would give props to the dad who stabbed the snake without pause so that he could get the child away from the snake. This also says to me that it was accidental.

JATL

July 13th, 2009
9:57 am

And I totally agree that snakes don’t belong caged in a person’s home! Why do people want “exotic” pets anyway? These reptiles and animals belong in the wild or in a larger habitat where they’re properly cared for and not a danger to those around them. Given the havoc pythons are wreaking on the Everglades because too many idiots got them and then dumped them when they were tired of them, and the fact that they’re BIG dangerous snakes, I think they should be illegal as pets.

Nana2ryansam

July 13th, 2009
9:57 am

This is such a tragedy! My son and daughter-in-law and the same kind of python when she became pregnant with their first child. They gave the snake away before the baby was born.

BigJake

July 13th, 2009
10:02 am

It is likely true that is was a tragic accident, but negligence is clearly in play here since having a dangerous “pet” in close proximity to small, defenseless children created a dangerous situation. Parents should do all they can to protect their children, and I do not agree with anyone that says prosecution will not provide any determent for others. I think that making people pay for their stupidity might cause others to think twice, or at least THINK! I cannot fathom the pain the mother is feeling, just like the case here in Cobb County recently where a mother left her 5 week-old child in a car with a 12 year-old that caused her death. That case screams for a negligence charge to make sure something like this never happens again. It is a shame that we make people take and pass tests to be able to drive, but to become a parent doesn’t.

Theresa Bowling

July 13th, 2009
10:08 am

I think they should be charged. Why was the child still asleep at 10:00AM and the parents too? The snake should have never been in the house and I would like to know why the mother didn’t speak up to this man that wasn’t the childs father. Now he will have the mother all to himself. How Convienant! I think people are stupid in general. Poor child should have been living with her real dad. There is no difference in having a swimming pool without a fence and having small children or a gun in the house or a damn snake anywhere near a child, (caged or not). The justice system sucks, they will probably get a smack on the wrist!

HB

July 13th, 2009
10:09 am

I think they should be charged with some sort of negligence. Yes, they have already suffered, but this was unbelievably stupid. As someone wrote earlier, snakes get out of cages! I had a bio teacher whose classroom snake (small, nonpoisonous, native) was constantly escaping. I also worked at a children’s nature museum, whose small, native, harmless snake got out on occasion. Keeping a huge snake that kills prey by coiling around it in a home with a toddler is just incredibly irresponsible.

JATL

July 13th, 2009
10:18 am

MJG -my response is under Friday’s topic. The parents of the kids I taught were exactly the kind of parents who would keep dangerous snakes, pit bulls, tigers, etc. around their small children. Not really the type who would ever help (or be able to help) their kids with a paper ;-)

JJ

July 13th, 2009
10:20 am

Hijacking – I have a good one for you guys……

My neighbor’s daughter is 19, and has a 15 month old child, with her boyfriend (who is currently under house arrest), and they are living together. They drink heavily and fight and scream in front of the child.

My neighbor’s daughter was sick with a kidney infection, and came to stay at my nieghbor’s house for a few days, along with the baby. While she was away, the boyfriend
“fooled” around with another girl at his house. Friends of the couple told my neighbor, and the girl fessed up too. She said they didn’t have sex, but did just about everything else.

Would you tell your daughter about her boyfriend?

When they start drinking and fighting, would you go get the baby and get her out of harms way?

What would you do?

As a mother, it’s my first instinct to protect my child. I would go get my child and bring her to my house, have someone watch the baby for a couple of hours, and tell my daughter what I know……..

What do you all think? I’m not involved, but I told her I would go get MY daughter…..

RJ

July 13th, 2009
10:21 am

Well said HB! I have never understood wny anyone would want to have a snake as a pet. While in college I knew of a couple of people that had them and they ALWAYS got out! That’s why I never went to their house, I’m terrified of snakes! They were negligent and should be charged with something.

DB

July 13th, 2009
10:24 am

What kind of punishment could the state throw at them that would be worse than what they are already putting themselves through? The prison system is to punish and rehabilitate. I would imagine that they will NEVER have another pet such as that python, and they will live with the guilt, grief and horror for the rest of their lives. I don’t see how stuffing them into a jail cell is going to benefit a) society or b) “teach” them a lesson.

HB

July 13th, 2009
10:35 am

DB, in a lot of cases, I would agree with you, but this to me was just such an error in judgement. For example, I disagree with prosecuting parents who accidentally leave a child in the car, and it’s clearly an accident. It’s a tragic mental lapse that the parent is suffering enough. However, I do think we should prosecute parents who leave their children in cars because they can’t find a babysitter, don’t want to deal with taking them into the store, etc. That’s an actively bad choice. I think having a python in the house is closer to the second scenario.

DB

July 13th, 2009
10:38 am

JJ: Oh, hell yeah, I would DEFINITELY tell my daughter. Why protect that POS? The boyfriend is bad, bad news, and nothing good is going to come of this. Let’s see — he’s under house arrest, he’s screwing around with another girl the minute his sick girlfriend is away . . . what’s the long-term good to come out of this? The girlfriend was sick and the BF couldn’t be bothered to care for her and the baby, so she had to go stay with a neighbor? What’s wrong with the picture?

The trouble is, the mom can’t go “get” her daughter, because the daughter is of age and is obviously the independent sort, anyway. I know the urge to swoop in and “protect” her is an extraordinarily strong maternal instinct — but the mom is out of luck, here. She can’t protect someone who is too stupid or “in luuuvvvvv” to realize they are in a poisonous relationship. At this point, I’d be tempted to focus on the baby, to make sure that the baby wasn’t a victim of the cross-fire between daughter and boyfriend.

I think I’d have a heart-to-heart with the daughter and, for the baby’s sake, think about trying to get temporary custody of the baby until my daughter started thinking with her head and not with her hormones. I would strongly urge her to consider AA, and even if she didn’t, I would make a point of going to Al-Anon and make sure she knew that I was going because of my concern for HER.

FCM

July 13th, 2009
10:58 am

@ Just a Thought — the permit IS required to keep a python. This family does not have the permit.

The snake was moved to a safehouse where a permit carrying person lives. Thus the snake may or may not be destroyed.

The snake was still alive when removed….the Boyfriend stabbed the snake only until it moved off the toddler.

@Kaye please provide the link that says they had not fed the snake in a month. I have not found anything that stated the snake was abused, unfed for long periods etc….The snake may have been acting toward the child as a threat rather than as food source.

There was an allogation that the snake had gotten out once before that same night. In which case somebody should have been up checking on the snake.

As to other harmful pets. There are many pets that should not be family members. I friends who raised rattlers (I refused to step inside their property lines). They wisely stopped this business of milking rattlers (and they had a python, a cobra and few others too) and got rid of all the snakes before they had children.

If I cannot have a dog over 75lbs in my building you should not be able to have a snake that could get out and ‘visit’ in the building either. (That at the person who was in NYC).

This is horrible and its questionable whether we have enough facts to censure or make judgement. (Although I censure having snakes of any kind in the home incase you missed that!) No matter what these people will live forever with the pain of the loss of that child.

DB

July 13th, 2009
11:01 am

HB: I have to admit, I am not entirely easy with my opinion, either, because I am aware that I absolutely LOATHE snakes. Eeuuww!! The death that the child suffered by python is, to me, the stuff of nightmares.

However . . . would a parent be held equally responsible for a child drowning in a backyard pool? Backyard pools claim FAR more children’s deaths than pythons. Would people be declaiming “How irresponsible of the parents to have a POOL while having a small child!” The sympathetic responses would be, “Oh, no, the child slipped out . . .” (hmm . . .) or “You can’t watch a child every SECOND of the day,” or “it can happen so fast!”, etc., etc. to make the parents feel less guilty.

Snakes, however, wake a subliminal sense of dread in many people, and I think that distaste may be prompting some of the cries for punishment that parents of a drowning victim would not incur, while, in my mind, facing the same degree of responsibility. I don’t think that parents of drowning victims should be carted off to jail for negligence — why should these parents? I have no idea about the family dynamics involved, whose snake it was, etc., how late they were up the night before (child was sick? parent was sick or working the night shift?)

The assignment of blame may make others feel better (”I’m in control, I would never do something like that, ipso facto, my children are safer”), but I think that, in this case, it was just a tragic mishap. If the snake had never attacked a family member or pet before, the family could have been lulled into a false sense of security — just like parents with a “pool alarm” or “baby-proof” fence may have a little more comfort with their swimming pool.

Still — snakes . . . *shudder*

FCM

July 13th, 2009
11:03 am

*OH and incase you missed it last week the AJC ran an article about how the pythons are migrating (they think) into GA….So it can be happening here next. The everglades are over run so they are coming north…they are not indigenous (sp?) to the area. There is research being conducted in Savannah to see if they can survive in our climate.*

Denise

July 13th, 2009
11:15 am

Wow. I hadn’t heard about this and wish I never had. This is terrible. I’m not sure how I feel about charging them with a crime that may give them 30 years in prison. I think there should be a charge with negligence but honestly, I don’t know what would be fair yet sufficient in penalty.