In minutes, jury convicts Florida man of girl’s murder, rape
It took less than 15 minutes Wednesday for a Florida jury to convict a 61-year-old man of abducting, raping and murdering an 8-year-old girl.
The Jacksonville courtroom had just gone into recess after the judge read instructions to the jurors when everyone quickly returned. A decision was in: unanimous guilty verdicts against Donald Smith in the crimes against Cherish Perrywinkle.
The white-haired Smith, wearing shirt and plaid tie, watched without expression as the jury foreman quickly read through the verdicts.
Cherish was abducted from a Walmart in 2013 after Smith persuaded her mother that he would buy the poor family some clothes with a gift card.
Smith had introduced himself as a good Samaritan to the mother, Rayne Perrywinkle, at a discount store earlier in the day, saying his wife would meet them at the Walmart and bring the card.
The wife never showed, and Smith instead lured Cherish away from her mother and two sisters as they shopped. It got late, and the mother said she hadn’t fed the girls so Smith offered to go to a McDonald’s located in the front of the store and get them some cheeseburgers.
Cherish followed Smith through the store. The McDonald’s was closed, and surveillance footage showed the girl following Smith out of the store and getting into his white van.
“To the untrained eye he looks like Uncle Joe who is shopping with Rayne and the kids,” prosecutor Mark Caliel said during his closing argument Wednesday morning.
“He made her feel safe through his lies and deception,” Caliel said. “And then he preyed upon her. He drove her out of that parking lot of the Walmart to where no eyes could see and no ears could hear.”
After about 20 minutes Rayne testified that she realized something was wrong. She didn’t have a working cellphone, so she borrowed one from a Walmart employee and called 911.
By then it was too late. Cherish’s battered body was found in a Jacksonville creek, still adorned in the orange dress with a fruit print. When police arrested Smith his pants were wet. Later, technicians found his DNA all over her body.
The jury was shown gruesome photographs of Cherish’s body. While testifying about the girl’s injuries the city’s chief medical examiner had to interrupt her testimony because she became too emotional while talking about it.
Caliel told the jurors they would never forget the images they were forced to see.
“They will forever be a part of your memory. Burned into your memory,” he said.
The jury was ordered to return to court Tuesday to begin the penalty phase of the trial. Smith faces a possible death sentence. He was convicted of first-degree murder, kidnapping and sexual battery on a child less than 12 years of age.