Day two of the penalty phase for the man accused of kidnapping, beating, raping, and killing 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle resumes on Wednesday in a Duvall County, Florida, courtroom. He’s facing a sentence of either life in prison without parole or the death penalty, depending upon the jury’s unanimous decision.
The first day of the penalty phase began on Tuesday with a woman who hadn’t seen convicted murderer, Donald James Smith, in over 20 years. In 1992, Smith, whose currently facing either life in prison or death row, attempted to abduct Kerri Ann Buck when she 13. Buck recalled the fear and panic she experienced while hiding inside a tubular slide at a playground elementary school, while Smith waited for her to come out. Smith eventually left the park and was later convicted of convicted kidnapping.
Several doctors took the stand yesterday and explained Smith’s mental issues and drug problems, including long-term cocaine use and antisocial personality disorder and pedophilic disorder. He was also said to have grown up with an “inappropriate” relationship he had with his mother, who generally bailed him out of any trouble he got into, according to clinical and forensic psychologist, Dr. Heather Holmes.
“I would love to say that there was this one defining moment in his childhood. I mean, he certainly had an inappropriate relationship with his mom,” Holmes testified. “But a lot of people do and they don’t turn out to be pedophiles that have murdered a child.”
Today, other witnesses for the defense are scheduled to take the stand, including Smith’s only son.
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, 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]