Incident Date: August 21, 2008
Jurisdiction: Sixth Judicial Circuit
County: Pinellas County
Sentence: 15 Years in Prison
Year of Conviction: 2008
Release Date: August 3, 2020
Sentence Served: 8 Years
Real perpetrator found? No
Contributing Causes: Expert Witness Testimony
Compensation? Not Yet
Stephanie Spurgeon was incarcerated on a 20-year prison sentence for a crime she did not commit. She was released on August 3rd of 2020. Spurgeon was accused of manslaughter in the August 2008 death of Maria Harris, an infant who became unresponsive on a car ride back home after spending her very first day in Spurgeon's care.
On August 21st of 2008, Spurgeon was a married mother of two and a home daycare provider for many years. She had a new 1-year-old child, Maria Harris, in her care and after the child was picked up at the end of the day, the child became ill. Maria fell asleep at her new daycare and never woke up. She died eight days later from a brain hemorrhage.
Doctors said the brain hemorrhage was inflicted by abuse. This was in spite of the fact that the child did not show any external signs of injury nor outward signs of trauma. There were no bruises, no neck injuries, or broken bones. However, prosecutors alleged that the brain swelling stemmed from the child being thrown repeatedly against a soft surface, like a mattress. Spurgeon’s attorney 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.
Spurgeon was convicted in 2012 and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Spurgeon was found guilty of manslaughter after prosecutors argued at her trial that the girl's brain swelling could only have been caused by abuse.
In 2018, Stephanie Spurgeon was granted an evidentiary trial to demonstrate new evidence of her innocence
Spurgeon’s defense attorneys plan to challenge her conviction by presenting scientific testimony ranging from bio-mechanical engineering to clinical pathology. Our director, Seth Miller, argues that Spurgeon's trial lawyer failed to present evidence that could have resulted in an acquittal. This is because Spurgeon’s lawyer decided to focus on refuting the theory of Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) instead of the prosecution’s actual theory involving the baby being thrown on a soft surface.
Medical tests taken of Maria while she was hospitalized showed that she had a number of tell-tale signs of an undiagnosed diabetic crisis. Maria’s blood glucose was more than four times the normal level and she had developed a blood clot in a vein at the top of her skull.
Dr. Michael Laposata, a pathologist specializing in blood disorders, testified that the clot formed about ten days before Maria was hospitalized. There was also no bruising on her scalp that could have indicated abuse.
Chris Van Ee, a Michigan bio-mechanical engineering expert, also testified that tests conducted on baby-sized dummies show that brain trauma like the kind Maria suffered cannot be caused by falling onto a mattress.
Stephanie maintained her innocence and her case was picked up by 2 Innocence Projects. Attorneys presented their findings and 3 judges overturned Stephanie’s conviction, granted her a new trial, and set a bond for her release. Her family has paid her bond and she was released from prison on 8/3/2020.