Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Murdered child's mom watches as lawmakers take aim at predators

TALLAHASSEE — With the mother of a murdered child looking on, the Florida Senate on Tuesday unanimously passed four bills intended to make the state as inhospitable as possible to sexually violent predators.

Diena Thompson, whose 7-year-old daughter Somer disappeared in Clay County in 2009 while walking home from school, watched in tears from the gallery. After an extensive search, the child's body was found in a south Georgia landfill. Last year, a 26-year-old man was sentenced to life in prison for her death.

"This is for Somer," said Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island and sponsor of one of the bills. He noted that he was wearing a purple tie because it was Somer's favorite color.

The legislative package has been at the top of Senate President Don Gaetz's agenda since August, when the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported that 594 sexual offenders had gone free since 1999 — only to commit 463 child molestations, 121 rapes and 14 murders.

"We will protect our children and we will scorch the earth against sexually violent predators," Gaetz, R-Niceville, said in an address Tuesday. "We cannot waste one more day. We cannot lose one more child."

The Senate approved the following measures:

• SB 522 by Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, would require sheriffs to refer for civil-commitment proceedings inmates who are serving sentences in county detention facilities if the inmates are registered sex offenders or sexual predators and have previously committed sexually violent offenses.

• SB 524 by Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, would require a person to be subject to civil confinement as a sexually violent predator after a finding by two or more members of a multidisciplinary team.

• SB 526 by Bradley would increase the length of sentences for certain adult-on-minor sexual offenses and prohibit incentive gain-time for certain sexual offenses.

• SB 528 by Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, would require registered offenders to report vehicle information, Internet identifiers, palm prints, passports, professional licenses, immigration status, work at higher education institutions and other information.

Sobel cited the case of Cherish Perrywinkle, an 8-year-old Jacksonville girl who was kidnapped, raped and murdered last year. A registered sex offender, Donald Smith, will be tried in May for those crimes. Smith, 57, had made repeated failed attempts to kidnap young girls — even posing as a Department of Children and Families worker, authorities say. Under the proposals, he would not have been released before the Perrywinkle abduction given his previous crimes.

After the Senate adjourned, reporters asked Thompson if the bills could have changed what happened.

"I don't know that the law would have changed it for Somer," she said. "But what I do know is that it would change it for Cherish and many other children to come, so that's really all that matters."

The House versions of the bills passed two committees, and House Speaker Will Weatherford said they'll be ready within two weeks.

Murdered child's mom watches as lawmakers take aim at predators 03/04/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 4, 2014 10:21pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Clearwater police fatally shoot suicidal man after threat at hotel

    Public Safety

    CLEARWATER — Police fatally shot a armed suicidal man who threatened officers at a hotel early Thursday morning.

  2. White nationalist Richard Spencer is scheduled to speak at the University of Florida tonight and the school is on high alert for tensions. [Associated Press]
  3. Bowen: Park land deal raises Penny for Pasco questions


    The Penny for Pasco is unambiguous.

    At least it is supposed to be.

    There was no equivocating in 2004 when Penny for Pasco supporters detailed how the sales tax proceeds would be spent: schools, transportation, public safety and environmental lands. No money for parks. No money for recreation.

    Pasco County is considering a loan from its Environmental Lands Acquisition and Mangement Program to buy land for a park in the Villages of Pasadena Hills in east-central Pasco. Shown here is the Jumping Gully Preserve in Spring Hil, acquired by ELAMP in 2009 and 2011.
[Douglas R. Clifford, Times]
  4. Another Tampa Bay agency loses tax credits worth millions in dispute over application error


    LARGO — Another Tampa Bay housing agency has lost out on a multi-million dollar tax credit award because of problems with its application.

    A duplex in Rainbow Village, a public housing complex in Largo. The Pinellas County Housing Authority is planning to build new affordable-housing in the complex but was recently disqualified from a state tax credit award because of an issue with its application.
  5. Live blog: Many unknowns as Richard Spencer speaks in Gainesville today


    GAINESVILLE — A small army of law enforcement officers, many of them from cities and counties around the state, have converged on the University of Florida in preparation for today's speaking appearance by white nationalist Richard Spencer.

    Florida Highway Patrol cruisers jammed the parking lot Wednesday at the Hilton University of Florida Conference Center in Gainesville, part of a big show of force by law enforcement ahead of Thursday's appearance by white nationalist Richard Spencer. [KATHRYN VARN | Times]