Prosecutors to seek death penalty for Cherish Perrywinkle's killer
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- (WJXT) -- It took a jury less than 15 minutes to confirm what most of the Jacksonville community has known for more than four years: Donald Smith raped and strangled Cherish Perrywinkle.
Smith, 61, was convicted of kidnapping, rape and murder in the 8-year-old's 2013 death after prosecutors spent two days making their case that Smith took Cherish from a Northside Walmart, brutally raped her and choked the life out of her before dumping her half-naked body out like garbage.
Smith, the man with whom she was last seen, was arrested the morning after Cherish disappeared, shortly before her body was discovered in a creek behind a church.
Repeated delays in the court system stretched for more than four years before the case finally went to trial this week.
In a surprise move, Smith's defense team chose not to deliver closing arguments.
In his closing arguments Wednesday, prosecutor Mark Caliel said that Cherish weighed only 67 pounds when she died.
"He may not look like much of a threat," Caliel said, pointing at Smith in the courtroom, "but on that night, in comparison to that little girl, he had the strength of a giant."
Caliel said Smith singled out Cherish and lured her away from the safety of her family, lulling her into a false sense of security with lies before he drove out of the parking lot "where no eyes could see and no ears could hear."
“That little girl had to endure a nightmare no child should ever endure,” Caliel said, recounting the stomach-turning details the medical examiner shared the day before about the brutal rape and agonizing death Cherish suffered. “You could tell from the damage in her eyes that she fought for the last breath in her body."
After recapping the evidence presented by experts, Caliel asked the jury to pause and reflect for three minutes about all they had heard and seen the last two days. Three minutes, he said, was how long Cherish fought for her last breaths.
“From the grave she's crying out to you: 'Donald Smith raped me. ... Donald Smith strangled me until every last breath left my body,'” Caliel said. “In the final moments of her life, this defendant took from that little girl everything that was innocent and pure. And then he took her life. Now it's time to hold him accountable for what he did.”
The jurors did just that, and now prosecutors will ask those jurors to sentence Smith to death for the heinous crimes.
Cherish's mother, Rayne Perrywinkle, has said that she wants Smith to face the death penalty for what he did to her little girl.
Cooper said the penalty phase will start next week.