Cherish Perrywinkle

Cherish Perrywinkle: Day one of trial ends with gruesome details on how young girl was found raped, beaten, killed & thrown in water

The first day of trial against a Florida man accused of kidnapping, beating, raping, and killing an 8-year-old got off to a grim start as State Attorney Melissa Nelson wasted no time painting a gruesome picture of the night that Cherish Perrywinkle disappeared.

“Cherish did not die quickly, and she did not die easily. In fact, hers was a brutal and tortured death,” Nelson said while facing the jury.

Nelson was talking about a young girl who disappeared from Walmart on June 21, 2013, with a man who offered a Walmart gift card to her mother, Rayne Perrywinkle. The man, later identified as then 57-year-old Donald James Smith, took Cherish to a McDonald’s inside the store, then vanished with the child before her mother noticed. Cherish was later found floating in water, deceased. She’d been brutally beaten, raped, and killed before she was tossed aside.

The State Attorney warned the jurors that they would be “changed” by the trial, then explained in detail how Cherish didn’t die quickly. Instead, she endured a brutal beating that consisted of torture before the suspect allegedly killed her.

Perrywinkle took the stand on Monday, and through tears, explained how although she had a bad feeling about Smith, she put her trust into him out of desperation. A poor, struggling, single mother, Perrywinkle could barely afford to buy food and clothes for her children, but when enticed with a $100 gift card that Smith reportedly offered, she accepted and loaded herself and her three children, including Cherish, into the suspect’s van. Smith then took Perrywinkle and her children to a nearby Walmart.

“He looked into my face and told me I was safe,” Rayne Perrywinkle said.

“Did you want to believe him?” prosecutor Mark Caliel inquired.

“Very much so,” Rayne replied.

Walmart surveillance footage caught Smith and Cherish exiting the store together, but according to Nelson, no red flags were raised as the little girl was skipping along beside the suspect and wasn’t in distress.

“I was yelling ‘Call 911! My daughter’s been taken,’ and no one would help me right away,” Perrywinkle continued, then added that a store employee finally let her use a phone, but it was too late.

“No one noticed. It looked like a grandfather and a granddaughter,” Nelson said during opening statements.

Cherish’s official cause of death was listed as blunt force trauma to the back of the head. She was left mutilated in a creek, wearing an orange dress, with her feet floating upwards. When authorities later found Smith in a tuck off of the side of a road, he was dirty and drenched from waist down.

Meanwhile, the only defense the jury attempted, was to paint Perrywinkle as a bad mother. Smith’s defense lawyer, Julie Schlax, insinuated that Perrywinkle made poor decisions on the night in question. The defense, however, decided against cross-examining Perrywinkle.

Check back with CrimeOnline as we continue to provide coverage on the trial.

[Feature Photo: Cherish Perrywinkle/CrimeOnline]