Killer Of Fla. Girl Found In Landfill Gets Life

Published February 4, 2012 3:18AM (EST)

GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. (AP) — Minutes after a man pleaded guilty to kidnapping, raping and murdering 7-year-old Somer Thompson, who was dumped in a trash bin and later found in a landfill, the little girl's twin brother addressed his sister's killer.

"You know you did this, and now you're going to jail," 9-year-old Samuel Thompson said to Jarred Harrell from the witness stand.

In a deal sparing Harrell the death penalty, the 26-year-old Harrell was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Somer's family was in favor of the deal because Harrell agreed not to appeal any of his convictions.

"Your punishment does absolutely not fit your crime," said Somer's mother, Diena Thompson. "Remember now, there is no safe place for you. You do not have an impenetrable cell. There will be no peace in the afterlife."

Somer was a second-grader living in Orange Park, Fla. — a suburb south of Jacksonville — when she disappeared while walking home from school on Oct. 19, 2009. She was with her sister and some friends, but ran ahead of them after they had a spat.

It was a route she had taken many times before, and she often stopped at a home to pet a white dog. Usually, no one came outside. On the day Somer disappeared, authorities said Harrell lured her into the home where he was living with his mother.

Two days later, she was discovered in a landfill in southern Georgia.

Harrell wasn't arrested until about three months after Somer's death. Initially, authorities interviewed convicted sex offenders within a 5-mile radius of Somer's suburban north Florida home, but didn't come up with any substantial leads.

On a hunch, they tailed nine garbage trucks from Somer's neighborhood to the landfill and picked through the trash as each rig spilled its load. They sorted through more than 225 tons of garbage before they spotted her legs sticking out of the garbage.

Harrell lived with his parents on a neighborhood street Somer took to get home. Police said Somer was lured into the home and later asphyxiated and tossed into a trash bin, though they have not released any more details about her death.

After Somer vanished, Harrell moved to Meridian, Miss., to live with an aunt.

He drew the attention of law enforcement two months before Somer disappeared, but he wasn't arrested. His roommates in Florida said they kicked him out for stealing and they discovered child pornography on his computer, which was turned over to investigators.

The Clay County sheriff's office said Harrell wasn't taken into custody then because detectives had to prove Harrell downloaded the child porn.

He only became a suspect in Somer's disappearance after Somer's friends showed officials where they had last seen Somer — the home with the dog. Also, the parents of one of Harrell's roommates drove by Harrell's parents' home and noticed how close it was to Somer's home. When they saw Harrell's car in his parents' driveway, they told detectives.

According to authorities, Harrell confessed to sexually molesting and killing Somer, then disposing of her body. DNA evidence found on Somer also linked Harrell to the crime.

Harrell pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, kidnapping, sexual battery, possession of child pornography and other sex charges, some stemming from an unrelated molestation case involving a 3-year-old relative. Authorities did not release details of that new case.

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 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.

Like most little girls, Somer loved to dance, play dress up, draw and color. Her favorite color was purple.

At her funeral, hundreds of purple balloons were released into the sky; purple flowers adorned her wooden casket and her family wore purple ribbons.

Somer had her brown hair in a ponytail with a red bow when she went missing. She was carrying a lunch box and wearing Hannah Montana backpack. It was purple.

"This will be that last breath that I waste and use on you. It is now time to take out the trash," Somer's mother said. "No punishment given to you will be good enough to soothe our spirit."

By Salon Staff

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