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Palm Harbor Day Care Provider Avoids First-Degree Murder Conviction

As reported in the Tampa Bay Times last month, former Palm Harbor day care provider Stephanie Spurgeon was acquitted of first-degree murder and convicted of a lesser offense, manslaughter, subsequent to the death of 1-year-old Maria Harris in August 2008.

A Pinellas County jury deliberated for 21 hours over two days before returning the verdict. Spurgeon had been charged with first-degree murder. The jury, however, chose not to convict her of first-degree murder. If they had, Spurgeon would have faced a mandatory life sentence with no possibility of parole. Instead, she faces up to 15 years in prison and will be sentenced in May.

Maria Harris spent one day in Spurgeon’s home-based day care. When her grandmother picked her up at the end of the day, she appeared to be sleeping. She was soon limp and lifeless. She was immediately hospitalized and died a week later.

Despite avoiding the phrase “shaken baby” at trial, prosecutors accused Spurgeon of causing Maria’s death in some similar manner. Despite no eyewitnesses, they argued that Spurgeon threw Maria down and caused her brain trauma. Expert witness for the State testified that Maria suffered from bleeding in the brain, brain swelling and bleeding in the eyes. They described her injuries as taking place at or near the time that she was taken to the day care.

Doctors testifying for the defense testified the girl’s brain bleeding, called a subdural hematoma, began a couple of weeks before her one-day stay at Spurgeon’s home. Another expert, a professor emeritus of physics at the University of Florida, said a human could not muster the force to shake a 20-pound child with enough force to cause the type of physical damage that Maria suffered.

Bjorn Brunvand was one of Spurgeon’s defense attorneys. When interviewed by the media, he expressed disappointment in the outcome of the case. “I think there’s reasonable doubt all over it,” he said.

See Also:

  • Brunvand Defending Pinellas Day Care Owner in First-Degree Murder Case

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