After only 15 minutes of deliberating, a Florida jury found Donald James Smith guilty of kidnapping, raping, and killing 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle. The little girl was abducted from a Walmart in 2013 before being sexually assaulted and brutally murdered. Smith now faces the death penalty and will be sentenced next week.
Just a day before the conviction, Cherish's mom, Rayne Perrywinkle, faced her daughter's killer as she described her girl's heartbreaking last day to jurors. The devastated mom explained that she was at a Family Dollar discount store with two of her three children when Smith saw that she was trying to purchase them clothes but couldn't afford it.
Rayne testified that when she couldn't pay for the items, they left the store. Smith was waiting outside and offered to take them to Walmart and buy them what they needed with a $150 gift card. Although hopeful, Rayne admitted to being wary of this "good Samaritan." However, he put her at ease by telling her that his wife would be meeting them at the store with the gift card.
"He looked into my face and told me I was safe," Rayne said on the stand.
With that, Rayne and her girls got into Smith's van and he drove to Walmart. But as Rayne shopped, Smith's wife failed to show and the girls were getting hungry. It was already past 10:00 p.m. and they hadn't eaten dinner yet, so Smith offered to take Cherish to grab them cheeseburgers from the McDonald's located in the store.
Rayne never saw her daughter again. After Smith and Cherish had been gone for 20 minutes, she realized that the store was closing and her daughter was gone. Her cell phone wasn't working and she started screaming for help. "I was yelling 'Call 911! My daughter's been taken,' and no one would help me right away," she said.
According to prosecutors, it took 40 minutes before an employee let her borrow a cell phone to call 911. "He wanted her to buy these really tall shoes that were women's shoes and I told him no. I said, 'They're too high for her, I wouldn't even wear shoes that high,'" Rayne told dispatchers when she made the emergency call. "Maybe he was grooming her. I hope to God he doesn't kill her and I hope to God he doesn't rape her."
When Cherish's dead body was found in a creek the next day, it was determined that she was brutally raped and suffered from blunt force trauma to her head. Smith's pants were wet as he was arrested the same day and his DNA was discovered on the girl's mutilated body. "Cherish did not die quickly, and she did not die easily. In fact, hers was a brutal and tortured death," state attorney Melissa Nelson said in her opening statement.
Nelson told jurors that Cherish had been gagged, sexually assaulted, sodomized, and strangled so forcefully that it made her eyeballs bleed. "Those images will forever be a part of you. They will forever be a part of your memory, burned into your memory," prosecutor Mark Caliel said as he showed autopsy photos. "I want you to remember what he did to her. How he strangled the life from her body. Three minutes .… That's how long it took, at a minimum, to take her life, while she fought."
Smith, who was already a registered sex offender at the time of the murder, had only been out of prison for less than a month before preying on the family. Although Smith's defense attorney tried to shift some of the blame on Rayne for accepting a ride from him in the first place, it took jurors just minutes to convict Smith of the heinous acts.
trial is now set to enter the penalty phase where jurors will hear evidence
before Smith's sentencing.