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

Becky

July 13th, 2009
11:24 am

Theresa Bowling, what does the fact that the baby was asleep at 10am have to do with anything?

HB, how do you accidentally leave a baby in the car? To me that is not an accident..You forget a purse, you forget a bag, you forget your cell phone, you do NOT forget a baby…That’s just my opinion..

jmb

July 13th, 2009
11:37 am

Did anyone else catch the story on GMA this morning about moms that eat from the same spoon of their babies passing germs & cavities to them through the process? I thought it was quite interesting and with some of the overprotective moms on this blog, it should give you one more thing to worry about.

HB

July 13th, 2009
11:40 am

Becky, sadly it’s not uncommon. Gene Weingarten wrote an amazing story on this a few months ago for the Washington Post Magazine: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/02/27/AR2009022701549.html. Make sure to have tissues handy before reading.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

July 13th, 2009
12:12 pm

I just found two very funny videos on Funny or Die.com — They are spoofs of what Jon and Kate might say if they were on Match.com! I just posted both videos in the entry above this one — check it out — they’re pretty funny.

JJ

July 13th, 2009
12:15 pm

How do you pass cavities to others?

HB

July 13th, 2009
12:34 pm

I’m pretty freaked out by snakes too, DB, so yeah, you may be right about the creepiness factor. I guess to me, the difference between a pool and a snake is that the pool’s actions are predictable, while the snake’s aren’t, so it’s a lot easier to put precautions in place for the pool. Kids’ actions aren’t predictable, making the pool dangerous — the snake is dangerous all on its own. I’m also horrified by families with little ones owning pit bulls, but a lot of people claim it’s the dog’s training, not the dog that’s the issue, so I may be wrong on that too. For environmental reasons, I do think these snakes should be illegal to own. One showed up at my mom’s house in coastal georgia a few years back that was apparently an escaped pet. Last thing we need is these creatures thriving in Georgia marshes and swamps.

JJ

July 13th, 2009
12:56 pm

Snakes are the number 1 reason I don’t own lake front, or coastal real estate……as much as I would LOVE to have a lake house, I don’t want the critters that come with Lakes…….

TKH

July 13th, 2009
1:18 pm

Personally, I would hate to have a snake in my house and not just for safety reasons. I don’t care for caged animals. But I’m having a hard time equating this to a crime and not just an accident. Another poster said they didn’t have a license which is illegal as far as I know, and that does seem punishable. But I don’t see the child’s death as something that should lead to prosecution. Just a sad, tragic accident.

JJ

July 13th, 2009
1:28 pm

I certainly don’t think the parents should spend the rest of their lives in jail, nor should there be an expensive trial.

They are already paying an unimaginable price for their stupidity.

jmb

July 13th, 2009
1:33 pm

JJ- They were interviewing a dentist and she said the bacteria from the cavity and also gum diseases can pass this way. I thought it was wierd too. And don’t worry about snakes on the water. I’ve had lakefront property for most of my life and never had one come in my yard that I know of. Waterbugs are the only pests that frequent and a good spraying twice a year takes care of those so don’t stress the lake life until you live it. At least you don’t sweat any drive by shootings on the lake :)

JJ

July 13th, 2009
1:33 pm

DB – Thanks for your wonderful response to my hijacking question. I printed it out and I am going to show my neighbor what you wrote.

I basically told her the same thing.

I also told my daughter that if she was ever in an abusive relationship and I knew about it, that I would go and get her and take her far, far away from the situation. I don’t care how old she is, she’s my daughter FIRST!!!! And if anyone lays a hand on her, they will have to deal with me!!!!! And I know how to use a gun.

I love Bill Envall’s line when a boy comes and picks up his daughter – “You better be careful with my daughter, because I’m not afraid to go back to jail”……

Becky

July 13th, 2009
1:35 pm

HB, I know it’s not uncommon, I still just don’t think that this is an accident..

JJ

July 13th, 2009
1:39 pm

Thanks jmb…….I wasn’t sure how cavities were passed to others. I shared eating utensils with my daugther when she was little.

The Voice

July 13th, 2009
1:42 pm

I am a male paramedic and I see death and injury and illness everyday. I know from my 30 years expierence that mothers have an inborn ability to recgonize what is safe and what is not safe for their children. This mother obviously ignored all the warning signs of keeping such an animal in the house. What if they had left a loaded gun in the crib. How about a rattlesnake, a rabid dog, a scalding bath or spaning with a leather belt. All those examples are things I have seen and they were all totally preventable except for the stupidity of the parents involved. Yes they sould be charged, their other children taken away (and I don’t say that often) and they should be jailed….I’m just sayin.

TKH

July 13th, 2009
2:02 pm

Anyone else caught the recent headline about the 3-year-old who shot himself in the stomach playing with a gun? What is wrong with these parents who expose their children to such dangerous situations??

DB

July 13th, 2009
2:02 pm

Re: The cavities. So . . . does that mean you shouldn’t kiss someone who might have cavities? Hmm . . .

JJ

July 13th, 2009
2:25 pm

Did anyone just see the front page of the AJC? A Three year old boy found a 9mm handgun at shot himself in the stomach. He’s in critical condition.

HB

July 13th, 2009
2:40 pm

Becky, I guess I don’t understand what you mean by not an accident. I mean completely unintentionally forgetting the child is in the car. Sleep-deprived, stressed-out parents forgetting to drop their child off at day care on the way to work — that sort of thing. The frequency of these incidents has gone way up in recent years with the use of rear-facing car seats installed in the back seat.

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BigJake

July 13th, 2009
2:45 pm

And the mother won’t be charged? WHAT?!? How about criminal negligence for allowing a child to find and use a gun? Is there not a law on the books that provides for this punishment? And just like the python case and the mother at the local Target, would not prosecution help send the message about not putting your children in a dangerous situation, if not only to protect them but also to avoid jail? I wish I could say that I am amazed, but woefully, these things happen all too frequently.

JJ

July 13th, 2009
2:59 pm

The three year old apparently found the gun around 11:00 PM…….they story says the mom was sleeping……but my question is where was the gun for a 3 year old to find it?

catlady

July 13th, 2009
3:05 pm

So we have a 3 year old…awake….at 11 pm….unsupervised while adults slept…..in a house with a loaded gun. How much more negligent can someone be?

DB

July 13th, 2009
3:15 pm

catlady, I agree that having a loaded gun lying around is beyond stupid. However, I can easily see a child waking up after the parents have gone to sleep. We have no idea, but yeah, if I were a parent and had had a tough day, was tired or sick, I’d be in bed by 11 pm and not think twice about it if I had put my three-year-old to bed a few hours earlier. If the child woke up and went exploring . . . good grief, how many times do you think that probably happens and we were never aware of it?!

FCM

July 13th, 2009
3:15 pm

Unless your name is VOLDEMORT you probably don’t need an 8.5 ft snake.

jmb

July 13th, 2009
3:21 pm

DB – I wished someone had asked about that but it lasted about all of two mins…. so not too much more was discussed other than using the same utensils.

catlady

July 13th, 2009
3:22 pm

In defense of the snake: Our vet brings animals to school each year to teach the children. One thing he brings is a boa. This is a very well kept boa, well fed, and, if you like snakes, (I do NOT) a very beautiful and healthy animal. He handles it, allows teachers to handle it, and allows the children to touch (and a few) to handle it. The thing is, even though it is well fed and cared for, its body tells it to wrap around and squeeze. So you have to watch it, because it will do what nature intends and get a “little too close”. Luckily it moves slowly.

On leaving children in the car: You get out of the car. You make sure you have your keys. AND YOU MAKE SURE YOU HAVE THE CHILDREN YOU STARTED OUT WITH.

On having an unfenced in pool: I believe that is illegal. At least you are 100% liable if a child dies and the pool was unsecured (see attractive nuisance).

On having a gun in the house with children:are you NUTS?

On sleeping (at all) from the time your baby is born until they are at least 18: ARE YOU NUTS? I have not slept well in almost 34 years.

HB

July 13th, 2009
3:23 pm

Given that another child and two adults were asleep, I think the 3-year-old probably woke up on his own after being put to bed and went exploring. There is no excuse for having an accessible gun, though. Several news magazines have shown children walking straight to drawers and closets to retrieve guns “hidden” but not locked away, and of course, the parents were always certain that the children didn’t know the gun was there. So very sad…

Denise

July 13th, 2009
4:06 pm

I don’t think having an unfenced in pool should be illegal, nor should the owners be held liable for anyone who was UNAUTHORIZED to be at their house. Of course children don’t understand the word trespassing but at a certain point, I don’t know why someone would have to protect others who aren’t supposed to be at their house anyway. That’s like when homeowners getting in trouble for shooting robbers. Why does the CRIMINAL get rights when they are breaking into MY home. (I’m sensitive to this because my home was broken into – nothing was taken, praise God – and I’ve been afraid to get a gun because I feel like I’ll get in trouble for shooting at someone who wasn’t supposed to be at my house in the first place. And I am single, live alone, don’t have kids, don’t have many kids visiting so I should be okay on the kids front if I ever decide to get one.)

On the topic – Is there a law that you have to house a snake, reptile, tarantula, etc. in a particular cage/aquarium/etc.? If there is a law and the parents broke said law, then I can see bringing criminal charges against them. I’m still not feeling the “up to 30 years in prison” though.

DB

July 13th, 2009
4:08 pm

FCM: ROFL!!!!!!!!!! And look what happened to Nagini!

Becky

July 13th, 2009
4:24 pm

I mean that I don’t understand how any Mother could forget that her child is in the car…I just can’t think of anything that would cause a Mother to forget that her child is in the car..If you are that sleep deprived or stressed out, you should not be driving a car..

Could be that the 3 year old woke up after he had been to sleep for a couple of hours or so?

penguinmom

July 13th, 2009
4:42 pm

Becky, you should read the article posted earlier by HB. These were not slackard parents that this happened to. These were caring, attentive parents who had a horrible mental slip. Anyone who thinks they are incapable of this is judging circumstances they don’t understand.

The interesting thing to me in the article was that two NASA colleagues of one the parents have developed an inexpensive device that would alarm if the child was in the car after the ignition as turned off. They haven’t been able to find ANY companies to back their product because no parent believes they would do this so the companies don’t believe it would sell. How sad that something cheap that could have saved all of these babies lives can’t be produced because of those who think they are better parents.

HB

July 13th, 2009
4:46 pm

Becky, one researcher in the article I posted earlier gives an interesting explanation, saying that our brains do not always prioritize the things we want to remember the way we do when we consciously think through a list. In many cases, the accident was the result of a disruption of the usual routine. For example–Mom usually takes baby to daycare, but for some reason Dad needed to one day, he put baby in the car, then proceeded to drive his usual route to work without dropping the baby off. People slide into auto-pilot mode, and things — even very important things — slip their minds. In both the article and the chat that followed a few days later, several parents (including Weingarten) told of “there but for the grace God” moments where they had forgotten the children were there until they suddenly heard them speak/cry. One man told of a time that he and his wife each thought the other had picked up their child from daycare and were horrified to think of the consequences such a lapse could have had in the morning, rather than after work. It’s scary, and I think most people would like to believe that it could never happen to a conscientious parent, but sadly, it does.

penguinmom

July 13th, 2009
4:50 pm

Denise, I would agree if there had never been a case of a young child getting out of the house without his parents knowing. The 3-year-old isn’t aware of trespassing and before you are even aware of the trespass, he could be dead if your pool isn’t fenced. It should be our responsibility as a community to help prevent harm to our neighbors. That’s one reason you can’t let your dog run loose and why you aren’t allowed to shoot a gun in a residential area.
You might not have kids at your house but what about any of the houses on your street? I have a friend whose youngest son drowned in a neighbor’s pool when he was visiting a friend’s house.

JATL

July 13th, 2009
5:13 pm

Having a loaded gun ANYWHERE a 3 year old can get to it on his own is negligent! I have a 3 year old. The one reason I do not own a gun is because I have a 3 year old who is not quite as good at listening as I was growing up around guns. My 3 year old is secured in his bedroom at night so he can’t “go exploring” all over our house and get into God knows what and hurt himself! Companies make baby gates and butterfly latches for these purposes people! We have a large house, and it’s baby-child proofed for the most part, but I’m not taking chances -especially since he is great at figuring out things like baby gate latches, child proof latches, etc.

Anyway -I think the snake people have been punished enough even though they were (are) stupid and neglectful. Snakes are pets for some people and their sole purpose isn’t to kill or injure. Regardless, their child is dead. However a handgun is for shooting people. Period. Leaving a loaded one anywhere a child can access it is EXTREMELY negligent and beyond stupid. I only hope this child recovers! At the very least, DFACS should put them on a visiting rotation to check for dangers in that home. I think the mother should be cited in some way if not fully charged.

Denise

July 13th, 2009
5:39 pm

Penguinmom – I said I was good on the “gun” issue because I don’t have children at the house that can get hurt. I am deathly afraid of shooting a gun so I just used that as an example of how trespassers are given more rights than the homeowners.

As for the kids and the pool, yes, I think it is responsible for everyone to safeguard the people in their community to a certain extent. Of course, I’d die 2 deaths if I saw a child dead in my pool (don’t have one) because he/she got out of the house and wandered over. My point is that I think it’s more of a community responsibility rather than a legal issue.

motherjanegoose

July 13th, 2009
6:11 pm

Denise, we have known of two families that had unattended children ( who wandered off) that died at the lake and at the pool.

One was where the mother thought the dad had the girl and the dad thought the mother had the girl, they were at the parent’s lake house. This was a responsible family.

The other was a professional family ( at work) who had a live in nanny in Texas, and the kids got out into the back yard and BOTH drowned in their own pool.

I DO NOT want a pool in my back yard. I am thrilled that we have one in our neighborhood, with a key code to enter. When I grew up, we had an above ground pool and there were kids who wandered over self invited, for a swim. We had to take the ladder out of the pool, when we were not home. I am not sure this would fly now. We did not have a fenced in yard. Freak accidents with children happen so quickly.

I have a fenced yard now and my neighbor’s kids play ball between our houses and hop over the fence, to get the ball. We put the gate on the other side, as we do not want them to leave the gate open and let our dog out ( re: same neighbor whose friend ran over our previous dog last year and it died). I had a chat with our neighbor about how this will weaken our fence or the kids could get hurt. She agreed. Kids today, think nothing of going into neighbor’s yards….

My husband has just now mentioned getting a gun and I o.k. with it now that our kids are 17 and 22. Not sure I would be able to sleep if they were little. We did have guns on the farm, but there again when my parents told us NOT to touch things…we did not DREAM of doing so unless we wanted our pants on fire.

deidre_NC

July 13th, 2009
9:52 pm

jj i love that…not afraid to go back to jail lol i will definately have to remember that one….cracked me up!! have a blast at the beach…wish i was going:)

deidre_NC

July 13th, 2009
9:57 pm

“On sleeping (at all) from the time your baby is born until they are at least 18: ARE YOU NUTS? I have not slept well in almost 34 years” catlady

omg after the day i had thanks yall for the laughs…that was hysterical and so danged true!!! lmao

catlady

July 14th, 2009
6:42 am

And now comes the “mama” who drops her 3 year old off at “daddy’s” but apparently doesn’t make sure the kid gets in the door and he is found wandering on the highway. Is stupid catching?

deidre_NC

July 14th, 2009
7:02 am

rolls eyes….geeze

Becky

July 14th, 2009
8:55 am

HB and penguinmom, I get it that people leave their kids in the car..I guess I just don’t let anything stress me out enough to forget to get them out of the car..Even with all of the dufus people in my family, none of them have ever left a child in the car…

I’m 47 years old and have a nephew that is only 6 1/2 years younger than me..Everywhere I went growing up, h e went with me,even after I started driving..Never once did I forget him..

Becky

July 14th, 2009
9:06 am

catlady, it goes back to what you (I think) said yesterday..You can’t fix stupid..As I said about leaving babies in the car, where could this “Mother” have been in such a hurry to get to that she didn’t make sure the child was in the house..NOWHERE..No job, date or anything is worth more than the safety of your child…

Denise

July 14th, 2009
12:40 pm

motherjanegoose, I wasn’t suggesting that kids do not wander off and end up in terrible situations. I know that and I get sick every time I even hear about it. I have known adults to drown so I know the dangers to kids. Plus I’m not the greatest swimmer; I know enough to get to the wall of a pool (don’t go farther than waist high at the beach if that) so I would not expect that children who may fall in can safely get out of the pool or lake. My point is only that while it is responsible for people to fence in their pools – I am not debating the need for that – just don’t see it as a LEGAL issue. My mother’s pool at her last home was fenced in with a lock requiring a key that was too high for a child to reach. and she suspected older/taller kids of tampering with the lock. Who, then, would be legally responsible if the kids got in and were hurt or worse? At what point do we say “okay you’ve done what you should do so you are not held accountable for this”?

bufordmomof4

July 14th, 2009
3:31 pm

Denise, we just put in a pool, and it was told to us that a five foot fence had to be around the pool/or the backyard. We have a 4-foot fence around our entire backyard, but that wouldn’t be up to code. If I was single, I would have thought that ridiculous. If a child enter my FENCED backyard, I cannot help that. But we have young children, so there’s was NO way I would ever put a pool in without a safety fence around it. So, we installed a five-foot metal safety fence. It locks with a key, has self closing entrances, and is 5 foot tall. The mechanism to unlock it is at the top (5-foot high) so no little kids can access it. They’d never figure out how to do it, it’s very inconspicuous. Most adults get stuck outside our pool entrance. It’s pretty funny.

I actually think a locked four foot fence around our property should be sufficient to keep other people’s kids out, but apparently that’s not what the building code says. But, like you, I sleep well with our safety fence around ours. It would be a nightmare to find a child drowned in our pool. I don’t think I’d ever swim in it again!

motherjanegoose

July 15th, 2009
9:28 am

@ Denise…re: you’ve done what you should…

on the same day we agree that those of us who are working and paying more taxes than ever get to say ” we are doing what we can to provide for our own family and are terribly sorry that you are not married and have 3 children plus one in the oven. We do not want to be accountable and so since you are not employed and have no job skills, you will HAVE to take birth control and be tested for it before you receive any more gov’t aid. If you choose for us to support you, then you choose to have no more children.” Does anyone see this happening?

It is the same nonsense with everything,everywhere, those who are responsible are penalized for those who are not.

I KNOW it is not the children’s fault but if they are reared in that environment, they will have the same attitudes when they grow up…THE RICH FOLKS OWE US. ( fyi…I am not rich but do pay taxes and work so that my own family can be comfortable, as do others on this blog.)

karen

July 15th, 2009
11:05 am

Terrible that you lose a child because you have a 8ft snake in your house. What are you thinking…the child was only 2….i think they should be charged for the death of the child…how could they keep that kind of snake in a house with a young baby…..and the child never understood about snakes….how terrible for the baby and i blame the parents…you have to take things our of childrens way…or out of the house….to keep them self. I don’t think anyone should have that kind of snake in the house anyway. I hope that they did something to the snake…they would do it if it was a dog…the parents are to blame…i am sorry for the lose of their child..but very bad judgement on the parents…..God bless that poor child having to die lie that….

Linda

July 15th, 2009
7:18 pm

I think prison time is too much but they need to be held accountable in some way.Since there’s no penalty for being stupid, maybe start a campaign to make owning exotic pets a crime.

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LIsa

July 21st, 2009
10:53 am

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