Man charged in death of Florida girl in landfill
Posted March 26, 2010
ORANGE PARK, Fla. — A 24-year-old unemployed restaurant worker was charged Friday with murder in the slaying of a 7-year-old Florida girl whose body was found in a Georgia landfill after she disappeared walking home from school, authorities said.
Jarred Mitchell Harrell was charged in the death of Somer Thompson, who went missing Oct. 19. Her lifeless legs were discovered two days later in a landfill about 50 miles from Orange Park.
During a press conference at the same church where Somer's memorial service was held in October, Clay County Sheriff Rick 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.
He was then extradited to Florida. His relatives have said they don't believe he is capable of violence.
Clay County detectives said at the time of Somer's disappearance, Harrell was living at his parents' suburban Jacksonville home, near her elementary school and house.
After Somer vanished, investigators on a hunch tailed nine garbage trucks from her neighborhood to the landfill, then picked through the trash as each rig spilled its load. They sorted through more than 225 tons of garbage before the gruesome find.
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.
As officials searched for Somer, cable TV news outlets carried Diena Thompson's tear-filled statements and the candlelight vigils, where hundreds sang "You are My Sunshine," which is Somer's favorite song.
Somer's father, Sam Thompson, lives in the Alamance County town of Graham.
With each day that passed and no suspect was arrested, residents were on edge.
Harrell had originally come to the attention of law enforcement in August, two months before Somer disappeared. His roommates said they kicked him out for stealing and he left behind his computer. They told police they looked at it and found child pornography. It was soon turned over to investigators.
The parents of one the roommates drove by the home of Harrell's parents 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. Clay County Sheriff Rick Beseler called him a person of interest in Somer's slaying at the time.
He 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.