The penalty phase for the man convicted of kidnapping, raping, beating, and killing a little girl in Jacksonville, Florida, starts on Tuesday.
The same jury that found 61-year-old Donald Smith guilty of the brutal rape, kidnapping, assault, and murder of 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle returns to court on Tuesday morning to decide what the convicted murderer’s fate will be. Smith faces either the death penalty or life in prison, depending upon the jury’s unanimous decision. The penalty phase is expected to last several days.
The jury, comprised of four men and eight women, were instructed to base their decision on aggravating factors, meaning additional information that makes the crimes more severe, such as the age of the victim, Smith’s previous criminal history, and any other of types of information that makes the crimes more serious.
The jury is also required to considered mitigating factors, meaning information that would support handing down leniency when making their decision, such as mental illness, physical illness, genuine remorse, and past issues of severe childhood abuse.
The penalty phase works similar to the actual trial, in that both the defense and prosecution are allowed opening statements, followed by a list of witnesses called forward. Although two statutory aggravating factors were already established, including Cherish’s age and more than one felony committed, the defense is expected to call Smith’s son to testify, as well as a team of experts that include psychiatrists, pharmacologists, and neuropsychologists.
Meanwhile, the prosecution is expected to additional evidence that shows Smith’s crimes were “was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel.”
What You Need to Know
As CrimeOnline previously reported, on June 21, 2013, suspect Donald James Smith, then 57, allegedly approached single, struggling mother, Rayne Perrywinkle, at the Dollar General store on Edgewood Avenue West in Jacksonville. The man first 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 card at a nearby Walmart.
Smith reportedly drove Perrywinkle, her daughter, 8-year-old Cherish, and 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., Smith’s wife still hadn’t arrived. It’s still unclear whether she ever existed, as Perrywinkle never once saw her. The suspect then allegedly suggested getting food at the McDonald’s inside the store, and asked Cherish to accompany him and pick out the food she wanted. 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 reportedly 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]