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Florida mother pleads guilty to drowning 4-year-old daughter in 2018

Shakayla Denson pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of 4-year-old Je'Hyrah Daniels.
Credit: 10 Tampa Bay
FILE PHOTO: Shakayla Denson

TAMPA, Fla. — The woman who allegedly stole a car and then left her 4-year-old daughter to drown in the Hillsborough River in 2018 will spend the next 20 years in prison.

According to Hillsborough County Court records, Shakayla Denson pleaded guilty to second-degree murder Tuesday in the death of Je'Hyrah Daniels. The news was first reported by the Tampa Bay Times.

“It is impossible to fathom how a mother could drown her own child. Denson clearly had some serious mental issues—which multiple expert witnesses found—but we were not willing to concede that she was not guilty by reason of insanity and avoid any punishment whatsoever. This sentence imposes an appropriate punishment and achieves justice for Je’Hyrah,” Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren said in a statement.

On Aug. 2, 2018, Denson waded into the Hillsborough River and left Je'Hyrah to drown. Witnesses at the time saw her dragging Je'Hyrah by the arm toward the river. At one point, witnesses said, both were screaming. 

Credit: GoFundMe
Je'Hyrah Daniels died Aug. 2 after her mother left her in the Hillsborough River, police say.

Witnesses said Denson held Je'Hyrah close to her chest as they went deeper into the water. When the water was near the top of Denson's shoulders, she reportedly let go of Je'Hyrah and turned around, heading back to shore.

Je'Hyrah would be found unconscious about 30 minutes later in the water and died at the hospital. 

Denson was then charged with first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse and grand theft auto. In December 2018, she was originally deemed not competent to stand trial. 

However, in June 2019, she was deemed competent. In 2021, Denson's attorneys said she would rely on an insanity defense, claiming she didn't know what she was doing at the time. 

RELATED: Attorney: Woman accused of leaving her daughter to drown in Hillsborough River will rely on insanity defense

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