For the first time since Jarred Harrell pleaded guilty to killing 7-year-old Somer Thompson, Diena Thompson talks about her agonizing decision to agree to a sentence that would allow "the monster" to avoid the death penalty so she can stay strong for her other children.
One week ago, Harrell pleaded guilty to charges he kidnapped, raped and murdered Somer, and to unrelated charges of sexual assault and child pornography, and he agreed to be sentenced to six life terms plus 35 years. The plea agreement spared Harrell the death penalty.
Thompson said Friday that while she feels Harrell is evil and deserves to die, she signed off on the deal prosecutors made with Harrell because the agreement stipulated that he would not appeal any of his convictions.
"I really had to take into account my other children and what this could mean for them," Thompson said. "I wanted to fight him tooth-and-nail -- Somer's mommy, Diena, does. But my other kids' mom says we need to protect them. Somer, I can't do anything else -- he took her from us. I can still help the other ones."
Thompson said Somer's twin, Samuel, made his own decision to address in court the man he calls "the monster."
"When he saw everyone up there he said, 'Mommy, I want to get up there.' And I said, 'You get up there and tell him what you want to tell him, and he just made me so proud."
Somer was a first-grader living in Orange Park when she disappeared while walking home from school on Oct. 19, 2009. She was with her older sister, twin brother 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.
Clay County Sheriff Rick Beseler said Harrell had raped and asphyxiated Somer and dumped her body in a commercial trash bin in Fleming Island by the time her mother flagged down a deputy to report her missing.
Harrell wasn't arrested for months, and then only on child pornography charges. He wasn't indicted for Somer Thompson's murder until five months after her death, then waived his appearance in court for the next 18 months when he agreed to plead guilty and accept sentencing.
Asked how she has remains strong during those two years, Thompson said: "I don't have any other choice. It's either stand up and fight or lay down and die. This is my world right now and this is what I have to live with."
Thompson said she was given some insight into the investigation along the way -- including that they were investigating a child pornographer whose computer was seized two months before Somer was killed -- she is hoping more of her questions about the case will be answered when evidence in the case is released, which could happen as early as next week.
"I would like to know how did he get her in the house. What did he say to her? There are so many unanswered questions," Thompson said.
Thompson said she plans to continue working with police to get child pornographers off the street, and use her influence to help convince lawmakers to adequately fund those efforts.
"Child pornography is one of the worst pandemics in this country, and we know that these pornographers are going to hurt other children," Thompson said. "So if we don't start going after them, they're going to pluck off our children one by one."