Parents May Face Criminal Charges for Python Death

On July 1, an 8 ½ foot-long Burmese constricting python escaped from its glass aquarium in an Oxford, Florida living room, slithered into Shaiunna Hare’s bedroom, and coiled itself around the 2-year-old, leaving her dead by asphyxiation, according to The toddler’s death raises the question as to if to what extent the parents will face criminal prosecution.

The parents, Charles Jason Darnell, 32, and Jaren Ashley Hare, 23, could face charges ranging from child abuse to aggravated manslaughter of a child — or none at all. Darnell allegedly attacked the snake with a knife before calling 911. Darnell has already received a second-degree misdemeanor for not having a permit to keep the python, which is a reptile of concern in Florida, but legal to have as a pet.

State Attorney Brad King of the 5th Circuit will determine what, if any, charges are warranted and if culpable negligence, or the reckless disregard of human life or the safety of persons, played a part in his child’s death after the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office completes its investigation into the crime.

I know the state is looking at everything real hard and also watching that the parents have suffered. It’s a difficult, difficult, difficult case because you can hear it in the 911 call, the fear and the horror, said defense attorney Michael Graves.

If, as a parent, Darnell is found to have acted with culpable negligence, he could face aggravated manslaughter of a child, which is a first-degree felony punishable up to 30 years in prison. Aggravated child abuse is a second-degree felony, punishable up to 15 years in prison while child abuse is a third-degree felony punishable up to 5 years in prison.

Florida State Attorney King will consider the security of the python’s cage, the proximity of the cage to the child’s bedroom, reports that the python had escaped earlier that evening, and the fact that two other children were home that evening.

George R. Dekle, a University of Florida law professor and former state prosecutor, questions the sensibility of housing a python as a pet but also questions a criminal prosecution. Is this the kind of case that serves the public interest to prosecute? It is an awful situation when a parent loses a child and the punishment the parent inflicts on himself or herself is, in my experience, much more severe than the law might be able to inflict.

In a similar 2002 case, an 8-year-old girl was strangled to death by her family’s 11-foot-long, 26 ½ pound Burmese python in her home outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her father, Robert D. Mountain, was charged with involuntary manslaughter and endangering the welfare of a child by the Westmoreland County District Attorney.

At trial, it was determined that Mountain’s homemade cage housing the pet python was inadequately small, leading to its escape. He was determined to be reckless for leaving his daughter, 8-year-old Amber, alone at home when it had eerily escaped from its cage earlier that day as well. Ultimately, Mountain was acquitted of manslaughter but was given probation for a lesser misdemeanor charge.

Shaiunna Hare’s death marks the twelfth death by pet pythons in the United States since 1980 as reported by the Humane Society of the United States.