By Barbara Liston
ORLANDO, Fla (Reuters) - Trial proceedings began on Monday for a central Florida mother and her boyfriend who are accused of allowing their pet python to strangle a 2-year-old girl in her crib.
Jaren Hare, 21, and boyfriend Charles Darnell, 34, were charged with manslaughter, third-degree murder and child neglect after the July 1, 2009, death of Hare's daughter, Shaianna Hare, in Bushnell northwest of Orlando.
Darnell found the couple's 12-foot-long albino Burmese python named Gypsy wrapped around Shaianna's head and body, according to the Sumter County Sheriff's Office. The medical examiner found bite marks on the child's head and arms.
Darnell estimated that Shaianna weighed 22 pounds compared to the snake's 45 to 50 pounds, the incident report said.
Darnell told deputies that he woke up in the middle of the night, found the python in the hallway and returned it to its 200-gallon aquarium where it spent most of its time. He thought he had secured the snake by placing it in a laundry bag, which had a small hole in it, and then covering the aquarium with a quilt held on by safety pins.
But Hare told deputies that the snake had escaped from the tank and laundry bag 10 times in the previous two months, and she was planning to make a locking lid for the tank.
Florida state law requires owners to keep pythons under lock and key. Neither Darnell nor Hare obtained a state permit to keep the python.
Darnell said the snake was due for its monthly feeding, but he didn't think the animal wanted to eat the little girl. Darnell said he stabbed the snake while trying to pry the toddler from its grip but the child was already dead, the sheriff's report stated.
The couple told deputies they often took the snake out of the tank to play with it and would place it around the shoulders of the children in the home without incident.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission took possession of the python and a red-tailed boa constrictor in the home. After the python was treated for stab wounds, both reptiles were placed with a licensed facility.
Lawyers selected a jury on Monday and were scheduled to begin opening statements Tuesday morning.
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Greg McCune)