More than 12 years after a rape victim known only as “J.D.S.” gave birth to her attacker’s baby, Democrat Senator Darren Soto & Republican Representative Scott Plakon seek justice.
By Jacob Engels
Nearly 12 years ago, an autistic 22 year-old woman suffering from cerebral palsy and severe mental retardation was raped in the group home she had been living in for most of her life after being abandoned by her mother at a very young age. In 2003, the female caretaker of the home reported the pregnancy after J.D.S missed her menstruation cycle – and that’s when an Orlando sex-crimes detective was assigned the case.
Eventually, the investigation revealed that the husband of the caretaker in the state backed group home was the father of the child and perpetrator of the rape. Then Governor Jeb Bush asked the courts to appoint a guardian to act on behalf of the fetus. The guardian, Longwood resident Patti Jarrell, submitted a medical plan to the court recommending the J.D.S. pregnancy be brought to term.
On September 1st, 2003 – J.D.S gave birth to a healthy baby girl. Her daughter was placed in custody of the Florida Department of Children & Families. The pregnancy over and the rape in the rear-view – but many asked when justice would truly be served for J.D.S. You see, her rapist – was found not competent enough to stand trial and returned home in 2004.
In late July 2014, Democratic State Senator Darren Soto started to work towards serving that justice by filing SB 24 – Relief of J.D.S. by the Agency of Persons with Disabilities. The bill would appropriate $950,000 from the General Revenue Fund to the Agency for Persons with Disabilities as compensation for the injuries & damages J.D.S sustained while being cared for in the state monitored group home where the rape took place.
“What happened to this woman was a tragedy, especially given her mental disability. It’s been far too long, and we needed to take a stand and do something to speed up this claims process,” said Senator Darren Soto.
The Agency for Persons with Disabilities would then disperse the funds to a non-profit trust that would manage the funds on behalf of J.D.S. Soto’s Senate bill stems from a lawsuit filed by J.D.S. caretaker Patti Jarrell in 2006. The suit named the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, Hester Strong, Phillip Strong and the Strong Group Home as defendants. According to the Orange County Clerk of Courts website, Jarrell was represented by Alexander Murphree Clem, a top lawyer for Morgan & Morgan.
In July 2012, a settlement was finally reached and shortly after that the case was closed. The 2012 settlement is where the $950,000 number is derived from in the 2014 relief claims bill filed by Soto. After 5 months, it was awaiting a House of Representatives companion bill.
On December 16th, Seminole County Legislator Scott Plakon filed that companion bill – HB 3503. Plakon, who served several terms in the State House – recently returned to the legislature after defeating one-term Democratic State Representative Mike Clelland in November’s elections. Clelland is an attorney for Morgan & Morgan and his campaign was financed heavily by the law firm.
“One of the core functions of state government in a civil society should be to care for and protect those that are disabled and not able to provide for their own care. Sadly, J.D.S was terribly harmed while under our care and she now deserves justice. I am honored to be a part of the team intending to bring justice to this innocent young lady that has suffered so much.”
The bill will now await final approval in the House and Senate. If it passes, it would then be passed to the Governors office where Rick Scott would have the final say. Sources tell us the Governor has responded positively to the idea of passing the relief bill. To learn more about the legislation, you can view (SB24) & (HB3503).
Jacob Engels, is the Founder of East Orlando Post & Seminole County Post. He is a seasoned political operative who has led numerous statewide political groups and has worked on several high-profile local, statewide, and national races. Jacob has been interviewed on national television & radio programs, with his work having been featured in the Orlando Sentinel, New York Times, Washington Post, Miami Herald and other publications nationwide. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org