As reported by the Tampa Bay Times and Channel 8 News, the Pinellas County murder trial of Stephanie Spurgeon began last week. Ms. Spurgeon is being defended by attorneys Bjorn Brunvand and Ron Kurpiers. Ms. Spurgeon is a former Palm Harbor day care owner accused of killing a 1-year-old by shaking the girl to death, despite no one witnessing any abusive action.
In late August 2008, 1-year-old Maria Harris was dropped off at Spurgeon’s in-home day care in Palm Harbor. She appeared to be asleep when she was picked up by her family at the end of the day but they soon discovered that something was wrong. The family called 911 and took the girl to the hospital, where she was treated for serious head injuries. She died eight days later.
In opening remarks to the jury, attorney Ron Kurpiers said the case would involve “complicated, detailed, specific medical testimony” that would sometimes be challenging to follow. But he also said that among all the people who would testify in the case, no one “saw or heard or witnessed Stephanie Spurgeon harm Maria Harris. Not one.”
He told the jury that evaluations showed that Maria suffered a subdural hematoma and retinal hemorrhaging, but there are other possible explanations that are “completely unrelated to trauma.” Kurpiers said prosecutors would be unable to prove “that Miss Spurgeon had any responsibility in causing what happened to that child.”
Numerous doctors testified as witnesses in the trial, which wrapped up today with closing arguments. “This is going to be a battle of experts and a battle of doctors,” said defense attorney Kurpiers.
On Thursday, Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner Jon Thogmartin testified that Maria was killed by “blunt head trauma.” But he didn’t say Maria Harris died of “shaken baby syndrome.” Thogmartin said he’s not even sure there is such a thing. Another medical examiner, Dr. Stephen Nelson, also testified on Thursday that Maria’s death was because of “blunt trauma.” Dr. Sally Smith of the Pinellas County Child Protection Team said, “It was not accidental, it was an abusive injury.”
Jurors will begin deliberating on the charges tomorrow. Ms. Spurgeon initially was arrested on a charge of aggravated child abuse, and later was indicted on a first-degree murder charge.
This case bears some similarity to a case against a former St. Petersburg foster mother, Tenesia Brown. Brown also was charged with first-degree murder, after authorities said she shook a 14-month-old child. Brown was found not guilty in her 2010 trial.
Watch the video from the trial as aired on Channel 8