Make us your home page
Instagram

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

Loading...
  1. Evening update: Tropical Storm Harvey forms in Atlantic, second wave follows

    Hurricanes

    UPDATE: At 8 p.m. the National Hurricane Center said a hurricane hunter plane had determined that Tropical Storm Harvey had formed with sustained winds of 40 mph.

    Three tropical waves are expected to strengthen as they move across the Atlantic Ocean. [Courtesy of the National Hurricane Center]
  2. Trump 'beautiful statues' tweets roil Tampa Bay's own Confederate debate

    National

    It started Thursday at 9:07 a.m., as it does so often these days, with a tweet:

    The Memoria in Aeterna Confederate monument stands in front of the old Hillsborough County Courthouse. Hillsborough County Commissioners voted 4-2 last month to move it to a private cemetery in Brandon before voting again this week to put a deadline on a public sector fundraising campaign to pay part of the cost. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
  3. Rays waste repeated opportunities in 5-3 loss to Blue Jays

    The Heater

    TORONTO — Rays manager Kevin Cash made a case for urgency before Thursday's game, in both actions and words, making significant changes to the structure of the lineup and sincere comments about time running short.

    Trevor Plouffe of the Rays reacts as he pops out with the bases loaded in the sixth inning. [Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images]
  4. Spanish PM voices solidarity with Barcelona

    World

    BARCELONA, Spain — Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy says his country is mourning in solidarity with the city of Barcelona and other cities in Europe that have been hit by deadly extremist attacks.

    An injured person is treated in Barcelona, Spain, Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017 after a white van jumped the sidewalk in the historic Las Ramblas district, crashing into a summer crowd of residents and tourists and injuring several people, police said. [Associated Press]
  5. Confederate statue: Why Bucs, Lightning, Rays took a stand

    Bucs

    They didn't want another Charlottesville.

    Marc Rodriguez, a member of the "Florida Fight for $15" organization, stands in protest along with other activists demanding the Confederate  monument be removed from the old Hillsborough County Courthouse in Tampa. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]