Mother of 7-year-old Fla. girl found in Ga. landfill supports death penalty in daughter’s case

By Tamara Lush, AP
Friday, March 26, 2010

Slain Fla. girl’s mom supports death penalty

ORANGE PARK, Fla. — The mother of a Florida girl who was killed and found in a Georgia landfill supports the death penalty for the man charged in her daughter’s death.

Prosecutor’s have not indicated whether they will seek the death penalty, but Diena Thompson said Friday she would support the decision for capital punishment.

Authorities have charged 24-year-old Jarred Mitchell Harrell in the sexual assault and killing of 7-year-old Somer Thompson. Somer was reported missing Oct. 19 and her body was found two days later in a Georgia landfill about 50 miles from her north Florida home.

Harrell has been in custody since he was arrested in Mississippi in February on child pornography charges.

Lush reported from St. Petersburg.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

ORANGE PARK, Fla. (AP) — A 7-year-old Florida girl whose body was discovered in a Georgia landfill was walking home from school when she was lured into a home by a 24-year-old man and sexually assaulted before being killed, Clay County Sheriff Rick Beseler said Friday.

Jarred Mitchell Harrell, who was already in jail on dozens of child pornography charges, was charged with premeditated murder in the death of Somer Thompson. Authorities said she was asphyxiated and tossed into a trash bin, but they did not give many details about her death.

Harrell also faces charges of lewd and lascivious battery and sexual battery.

Somer, an elementary school student who loved the color purple and the song “You are My Sunshine,” went missing Oct. 19. Her body was found two days later in a Georgia landfill about 50 miles from her north Florida home.

During a press conference at the same church where Somer’s memorial service was held, Beseler said detectives used DNA evidence, witnesses and statements from Harrell himself to solve the case.

“Our collective resolve to bring Somer’s killer to justice is the only light in the darkness caused by this tragedy,” Beseler said as about 50 members of “Team Somer” — the sheriff’s office investigators and staff who worked the case — stood by.

Harrell, who is being held at the Clay County Jail, has been in custody since Feb. 11, when authorities arrested him in Mississippi on child pornography charges in Florida.

His relatives have said they don’t believe he is capable of violence. It is unclear whether he has an attorney. Messages left at the public defender’s office were not immediately returned.

Prosecutors can seek the death penalty in this case, but they have not said whether they will do so.

Clay County detectives said at the time of Somer’s disappearance, Harrell was living at his parents’ suburban Jacksonville home, near her home and school.

Beseler said Somer was not in Harrell’s parents’ home for long. “I believe it was something that went rather quickly,” he said.

He didn’t want to reveal details about the case, for fear of jeopardizing the trial.

“We are confident Jarred Harrell committed this crime,” Beseler said.

After Somer vanished, investigators interviewed all known sex offenders within a 5-mile radius of her home. On a hunch, they tailed nine garbage trucks from her neighborhood to the landfill and picked through the trash as each rig spilled its load and sorted through more than 225 tons of garbage before they spotted her legs sticking out of the trash.

The discovery of Somer’s body touched off an outpouring of support in northeast Florida and southern Georgia for the Thompson family; days of vigils and fundraisers were held so Somer’s mom, Diena Thompson, could financially afford to stay home with her other children. A mountain of stuffed animals, balloons and notes to the family sprung up near a tree across from the little girl’s home.

Harrell had come to the attention of law enforcement in August, two months before Somer disappeared. His roommates said they kicked him out for stealing and they discovered child pornography. It was soon turned over to investigators.

The parents of one the roommates drove by Harrell’s parents’ home a few days after Somer disappeared and noticed how close they lived to the girl’s house. When they saw Harrell’s car in his parents’ driveway, they told detectives.

He was arrested Feb. 11 on child pornography charges at an aunt’s home in Meridian, Miss., where he had moved a few weeks earlier. He was then called only a person of interest in Somer’s slaying.

The sheriff’s office has said Harrell wasn’t arrested earlier because detectives had to prove Harrell downloaded the child porn.

Harrell was charged with 29 counts of possessing child pornography in Florida, then charged with a dozen additional counts of child porn and child molestation.

At the time of his February arrest, Harrell’s aunt said she didn’t think her nephew was capable of violence.

“They tried to make it sound like he’s some monster, but he’s not,” said Kriss Mizelle, who let Harrell stay with her in Meridian. “I could say all these good things about him, but nobody wants to hear that. They think you’re delusional and don’t know about his secret life, but he’s a good kid.”

Harrell was originally from Lucedale, Miss., and was home-schooled before moving to Florida. He worked various jobs, from cooking to retail, Mizelle said. Friends described him as a “computer wiz.”

Lush reported from St. Petersburg.

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