Nearly a dozen years after the death of a 1-year-old girl, a state appeals court Friday ordered a new trial for a child-care provider who was convicted of manslaughter in the case.
A three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal found that an attorney did not properly represent child-care provider Stephanie Spurgeon, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison in the Pinellas County case. The ruling stemmed from the August 2008 death of a girl who suffered from swelling in her brain.
Spurgeon, who cared for the child, was initially charged with first-degree murder before being convicted of manslaughter. The child, whose name was not included in the appeals-court ruling, did not show any external signs of injury. But prosecutors alleged that the brain swelling stemmed from the child being thrown repeatedly against a soft surface, such as a mattress. Spurgeon’s attorney, who also was not named in the ruling, defended her by refuting a theory that the child died after being shaken — a theory that prosecutors did not rely on at trial — instead of focusing on the allegations that the girl was thrown against a soft surface.
The appeals court, in an 11-page ruling, pointed to questions about the feasibility of the prosecutors’ arguments about how the child suffered the brain swelling. “Trial counsel’s failure to adequately investigate and present evidence refuting the actual theory presented by the state undermines confidence in the outcome of this case,” said the ruling, written by Judge Anthony Black and joined by judges Stevan Northcutt and Andrea Teves Smith.
“The testimony of a biomechanics expert regarding the infeasibility of the soft-impact theory could have created reasonable doubt in the minds of the jurors.” Spurgeon, now 49, was sentenced in 2012 and is an inmate at Hernando Correctional Institution, according to the Florida Department of Corrections website.
–News Service of Florida