The third day of the penalty phase for the man who killed, beat, and raped Florida girl Cherish Perrywinkle begins on Thursday morning and will likely end with a Duvall County jury’s decision on whether Donald Smith will get death or life without parole.
On Wednesday, a neuropsychologist explained that Smith was indeed a “psychopath” who grew up for a while thinking that his grandfather was actually his father, an incident which is eerily similar to notorious serial killer Ted Bundy’s upbringing. The neuropsychologist’s testimony was part of the penalty phase of Smith’s trial, in which the jury has to decide unanimously if he should face the death penalty. Under Florida’s recent law, if even one juror decides that Smith shouldn’t face the death penalty, he will not be executed.
Over the past few days, numerous experts have tried to convince the jury that there is something wrong with Smith’s brain, and his trouble childhood coupled with his mental issues led to his atrocious behavior. Smith’s only child, Donald Smith Jr., testified via a Skype conference and admitted that his lack of a father figure is part of the reason he started drugs at an early age. He also admitted that his father did illegal drugs with him when he was a teen.
Yet, despite his father’s absence for most of his life, Donald Smith Jr. wants his father’s life to be spared. He said now talks to his father regularly and that with Smith behind bars and away from drugs, their relationship has blossomed.
“No one can take the place of my dad because he is my blood, and he is my real dad. I definitely benefit from him. I talk to him at least once a week, most of the time twice a week, and he gives me really good advice.”
What You Need to Know
As CrimeOnline previously reported, on June 21, 2013, Smith, then 57, approached single, struggling mother, Rayne Perrywinkle, at the Dollar General store on Edgewood Avenue West in Jacksonville. Smith offered to buy the mom a dress, then offered to buy her a $150 gift card, to which she agreed, according to court documents. When he found out Perrywinkle didn’t have a car of her own, he somehow convinced her to ride with him to pick up the gift card at a nearby Walmart after talking with her for a few hours about his own past financial struggles.
Smith drove Perrywinkle and her daughter, 8-year-old Cherish, along with her two other little girls to the Walmart off of Lem Turner Road, claiming that his wife would meet them there and help them shop for clothing. The family loaded into Smith’s white van, lined with dark curtains on the inside.
At around 11 p.m., while they shopped inside Walmart, Smith’s wife still hadn’t arrived. It’s still unclear whether she ever existed, as Perrywinkle never once saw her. Smith then suggested getting food at the McDonald’s inside the store while waiting for his wife, and asked Cherish to accompany him and pick out the food she wanted. Perrywinkle, assuming that her daughter was safe inside a store with surveillance cameras an numerous employees, allowed Cherish to accompany him.
After 30 minutes passed and her daughter hadn’t returned, Perrywinkle became frantic and called the police after an employee allowed her to use their phone.
“I don’t want him to kill her. I don’t want to be one of those parents who go through this.” Perrywinkle told a 911 operator. “I don’t understand why he would leave right now. I already know he’s going to rape her.”
After a lapse in time while discussing strategies to find the little girl, officers began canvassing the area in search of Cherish. They obtained surveillance footage from Walmart and watched Smith exiting the store with the child following closely behind. They later identified Smith as a convicted sex offender who had only been out of jail for around three weeks before he preyed upon the Perrywinkle family.
Smith had an extensive criminal record, which included a lewd assault on a child, an attempted abduction on a 13-year-old girl, harassing phone calls to a 9-year-old girl, and an attempted abduction on two teen girls by trying to lure them to his vehicle with pornographic magazines. The suspect’s criminal record dated back to 1977.
At close to 9 a.m. the following morning, officers spotted Smith’s van off of I-95 near downtown Jacksonville. As officers approached his vehicle and surrounded him, they noticed Smith, dirty and soaked in water, was wearing the same clothes he had on in the Walmart surveillance footage.
Around the same time, officers received a tip that a “suspicious” van was seen around Broward Road. After utilizing K-9 units, little Cherish’s lifeless body was found in a nearby swampy ditch.
She’d been badly beaten, raped, and murdered.
Check back with CrimeOnline as we continue to cover key details in the trial.
[Feature Photo: Cherish Perrywinkle/Family Handout, Donald Smith/Screenshot]