By JACQUI GODDARD
Killer: Law enforcement officials remove a pet Burmese python, measuring more than 8 feet long, from the home in Oxford, Florida
A mother is facing up to 35 years in jail for third-degree murder after the pet python she treated 'like a puppy' squeezed her two-year-old daughter to death.
Jaren Hare, 21, and her boyfriend Charles Darnell, 34, went on trial in Florida today, two years after they found Hare's daughter Shaianna dead in her cot in July 2009, with their albino Burmese python, Gypsy, coiled tightly around her and its fangs embedded in her forehead.
Investigators say that the 8ft 6in serpent had not been fed for a month and was kept in a tank at their rural home in Oxford, Florida, with only a duvet thrown over the top, tethered loosely with bungee cords and safety pins, to try to prevent it from escaping.
On trial: Jaren Hare and her boyfriend Charles Darnell are accused of criminal neglect after her daughter was killed by their pet snake
Prosecutors say that the episode was more than just a macabre accident and that Shaianna died as a result of criminal neglect by the couple.
Though the snake was the 'instrument of death', Darnell and Hare were responsible for ensuring the child's safety but showed 'reckless disregard', they assert.
Grieving: Charles Darnell hugs Jaren Hare at their home on July 1 2009
'Those two adult defendants are responsible for the unlawful death of Shaianna Hare,' assistant state attorney Peter Magrino told jurors as the trial opened today.
Gypsy had slithered out of her unsecured tank at least five times in the previous four weeks alone, jurors will hear, including once the night before the toddler was killed, when Mr Darnell found the snake squirming along the hallway and popped it back in its tank.
The next morning, he found it wrapped around the little girl's lifeless body, trying to eat her. He stabbed the reptile several times with a six-inch knife and a meat cleaver to get it off Shaianna, but too late to save her.
'The baby's dead. Our stupid snake got out in the middle of the night and strangled the baby,' he sobbed to an emergency dispatcher after dialling 911.
Under suspicion: Gypsy had slithered out of her unsecured tank at least five times in the previous four weeks alone
Snake: The tank had only a duvet thrown over the top, tethered loosely with bungee cords and safety pins, to try to prevent the python from escaping