ORANGE PARK, Fla. -- Jarred Harrell has been charged with premeditated murder in the death of 7-year-old Somer Thompson, Clay County Sheriff Rick Beseler announced today amid scattered applause.
"Jarred Harrell has now been formally charged with the murder of Somer Thompson," said Beseler at a news conference at Orange Park Baptist Church. "Harrell assaulted Somer and killed her and dumped her body."
JARRED HARRELL ARREST REPORT
Harrell has been charged with sexual battery on a victim under 12, and lewd and lascivious battery, according to the sheriff's office. He is being held on a $1.6 million bond.
No other charges are anticipated. He appeared today in court today at 1:30 p.m.
The cause of death was asphyxiation.
The sheriff noted that it has been 158 days since Somer, disappeared while walking home from school in October 2009. Investigators found her body in a landfill in Georgia a few days later.
The crime likely happened at Harrell's home on Gano Avenue in Orange Park, he said, adding that police know where she was dumped and have established a timeline for the crime.
"I believe it is something that went rather quickly," Beseler said. "We don't believe it was very long she was with them."
He said he could not comment on the condition of the body or whether a weapon was involved.
MORE SOMER THOMPSON COVERAGE
Harrell was one of 4,000 leads and, Beseler said, Harrell's "name first surfaced not long after Somer's death." The arrest was made based on the location, DNA and admissions from Harrell; Beseler called it a "crime of opportunity."
"We are confident that Jarred Harrell committed this crime," he said, but did not elaborate on the nature of the admission from Harrell or the timeline.
He also said that police don't know that Somer ever had contact with Harrell prior to the day she was abducted.
Harrell was arrested Feb. 11 in Meridian, Miss., on 29 counts related to child pornography. The Clay County Sheriff's Office said the pornography crimes occurred in Clay County and were unrelated to the Somer case. Harrell, 24, was extradited to Clay County and arrived Feb. 24.
Beseler said today that as a target of the investigation, Harrell's whereabouts "were being monitored by investigators; we didn't have any difficulty finding him."
The sheriff said there would be no further details from the sheriff's office, only from the State's Attorney Office. "All future statements will come from the state's attorneys office," he said.
Beseler called it a "difficult case to put together, difficult to prove...We wanted to wait on some other test results to come back to make sure we had the right person."
The investigation will continue, Beseler said. "This is really the begin of the process."
Harrell is being held in the Clay County jail; the new murder charges came very early this morning, Beseler said.
He is being held in a single-man cell. "We worry about his safety...he is safe where he is right now," the sheriff said.
Somer Thompson's mother, Diena, spoke at 2 p.m. today in public, at First Baptist Church of Orange Park on Kingsley Avenue. Diena thanked the public, police and local businesses. She was not at the news conference.
Somer's father, Samuel Thompson, made a statement via his attorney Nick James:
"Samuel Thompson would like to thank the Clay County Sheriff's Department for their diligent efforts in this matter. At this time, Mr. Thompson is not prepared to make a public statement. It is his intention to let the legal process run its course. On behalf of himself and his family, he would like to thank everyone in advance for respecting their privacy."
"In the face of such fear and tragic loss, the community's solidarity emerged," said Beseler. "The outpouring of support and generosity...to bring Somer's killer to justice was the only light in the darkness."
First Coast News