— While the legal system didn’t quite deliver the justice she had hoped the man who raped and murdered her young daughter would receive, Diena Thompson believes retribution will soon be on the way for Jarred Harrell.
The man her family has called “a monster’’ cannot be forgiven for what he has done, and he will pay with his life one way or another, she predicted Wednesday.
“No, I don’t forgive him,’’ Thompson told Matt Lauer on TODAY. “He is going to leave that prison in a coffin, and probably much sooner than he would on death row.
“(Justice) is served as best as it can be, and I think that the inmates in the prison are probably going to do him some justice for me.’’
On Friday, Harrell, 26, was sentenced in a Florida courtroom to six life sentences without parole for the abduction, rape and murder of 7-year-old Somer Thompson in October 2009, as well as charges of molesting another young girl and possessing child pornography. The prosecution accepted a plea deal to guarantee that Harrell would spend life behind bars without parole rather than be tied up in the appeals process involved in seeking the death penalty.
“Basically with the information that was afforded to me by the prosecution, considering all parties involved, (including) my children, who would be dragged back into the appellate courts for God only knows how long, this ensured that he was never going to hurt another child, which is truly giving justice to other children,’’ Thompson said. “What we want and what we get sometimes aren’t the same thing.”
Family confronts killer
Seven members of the Thompson family spoke directly to an unemotional Harrell in court Friday during his sentencing after pleading guilty. They faced Somer’s killer more than two years since she was abducted on Oct. 19, 2009, on her way home from school in Orange Park, Fla. Her body was found two days later in a nearby Georgia landfill after Harrell had raped and strangled her to death. He was arrested after a month-long investigation that Diena Thompson worked hard to publicize, appearing on TODAY at the time in order to help find the murderer.
The Thompson family alternately expressed its anger and grief at Harrell in the courtroom as he sat expressionless.
“He took her dignity, her virginity and then he took her life,’’ Diena Thompson said in court. “After all that, he then treated my child like trash.’’
“I honestly don’t know how you can live with yourself,’’ Abigail Thompson, Somer’s older sister, told Harrell while fighting back tears. “You don’t even know how bad you’ve hurt my family. I hope you suffer like me and my family did. I can’t even explain how much me, my friends, my family, everybody I know and everybody my family knows, how much they hate you. You’re not even a human being. Your name is not Jarred Harrell. Your name is ‘Monster.’ ’’
Somer Thompson’s twin brother, Samuel, 9, initially was not going to speak but composed a short speech right in the courtroom once he heard his other family members expressing themselves, according to his mother.
“Jarred, we know you did this,’’ Samuel said while glaring at Harrell. “We have evidence. She trusted you, but you had to do what you did, and look where it got you. And now you’re going to jail!’’
“He wrote that statement right there and got up and made us all so very, very proud of his strength,’’ Diena Thompson said about Samuel. “When he got done reading it, he spun around in the chair (and) you could almost see a little bit of relief in him that he actually got to face the monster and tell him what he thought. At least that’s what I felt like.’’
‘He’s a coward’
Harrell never apologized or spoke to the family. He would not even make eye contact before he trudged out of the courtroom on his way to Florida State Prison in Raiford.
“He owed me that,’’ Thompson said about Harrell’s refusal to acknowledge the family. “He owed me at least that because he stole my child from me in such a vicious way. My family deserved that. He should’ve said something, but he’s a coward, so that’s what a coward would do.’’
The entire ordeal was wrenching for her family, but Thompson felt it was necessary.
“Just do what you got to do, there’s no other choice,’’ Thompson said. “It’s stand up and fight or lay down and die, and I won’t lay down and die for a monster.’’
The experience has forced her three remaining children, including Somer’s older brother Andrew, 15, to endure a horror that adults would have a difficult time coming to grips with.
“Unfortunately they’re much older than they should be,’’ Thompson said. “They’ve been forced to grow up really fast because of this situation and much like the rest of us have a hard time trusting pretty much anybody. We have to treat everybody like we don’t know them.’’
Thompson looks to continue her work with The Somer Thompson Foundation, which she formed in March 2010 to provide education, resources and help to victims of crimes against children. Simply telling children that there are sinister people in the world like Harrell is not enough, according to Thompson.
“We have to empower our children,’’ Thompson said. “We can’t tell them. We have to teach them. I told Somer, and it didn’t do a bit of good. We have to teach and empower our children.
“I just want to move forward with the foundation and try to help other families and try to do something to make it where this can’t happen again.’’