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Hearing Granted in Pinellas Babysitter Manslaughter Case

As reported in the Tampa Bay Times, a Pinellas-Pasco judge granted a hearing for Stephanie Spurgeon to determine if there is evidence to support a dismissal or new trial in a manslaughter case pending against her. Spurgeon, a Palm Harbor day care owner, argues that the state withheld evidence that could have changed the verdict.

Spurgeon’s defense attorney, Bjorn Brunvand of this office, says the state violated the Brady rule, which requires the state in criminal cases to disclose to a defendant all evidence favorable to the defense. Spurgeon was convicted of manslaughter last month by a jury and awaits sentencing. She faces up to 15 years in prison for the death of a one-year-old in her care. Spurgeon was initially charged with first-degree murder. A jury convicted her instead of manslaughter.

The defense recently learned Pinellas County Medical Examiner Jon Thogmartin said another child at the day care could have caused the injuries that killed 1-year-old Maria Harris. Thogmartin made the statement to a law school class while lecturing. A student in the class reported the statements to defense counsel.

Thogmartin is expected to testify at the hearing.

In August 2008, Harris’ grandmother dropped the child off at Spurgeon’s home day care. When she picked up the child that afternoon, Maria was lethargic and soon became unresponsive. She died days later in the hospital. An autopsy determined the child died of blunt head trauma.

During the trial, 11 medical experts testified with differing opinions on what caused the injuries.

Brunvand and co-counsel Ron Kurpiers requested a meeting with Thogmartin to confirm the information. “We said this is the first we heard of that,” Kurpiers said. “You didn’t put it in your report. He emphasized to us that he had on multiple occasions relayed that information to the assistant state attorney.”

The information never made it to the defense attorneys before or during the trial. The defense maintains that if the jury had been presented this critical evidence, it would have returned a finding of not guilty.

Prosecutors say they didn’t hear Thogmartin discuss any new evidence and, if they had, they would have brought it to the court’s attention.

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