They came to that decision after two days of testimony and hearing closing arguments from the prosecution and defense. After a review process, Circuit Judge Mallory Cooper will officially pronounce her sentence for Smith, though she is likely to follow the jury's recommendation.
In his final argument, prosecutor Mark Caliel recapped the horrific rape Cherish endured and her gruesome murder, again showing the jurors graphic autopsy photos that were displayed during last week's trial.
“The death penalty is appropriate. The death penalty is just. The death penalty is what he deserves for what he did to that little girl,” Caliel said.
The jury agreed.
Smith, 61, took Cherish from a Jacksonville Walmart in June 2013, after he befriended her mother and offered to buy clothes for Cherish and her sisters.
He brutally raped and tortured her, then wrapped something around her neck and choked the life out of her, making sure he left no witnesses, Caliel said.
After he was through with her, Smith stuffed Cherish's lifeless body under a log in a marshy, wooded area behind a neighborhood church, where she was later found by a Jacksonville Sheriff's Office K-9 team.
Smith was arrested the same day Cherish was found in 2013, but repeated delays in the court system, mostly involving the death penalty, stretched for more than four years before the case finally went to trial.
During a three-day sentencing phase that ended Thursday, experts testified that Smith is a psychopath who lacks control over his impulses. Doctors also described Smith as callous, uncaring, manipulative and lacking empathy.
A series of experts testified that Smith's brain is far from normal, and Smith's attorney, Julie Schlax, pointed to that as reason the jury should consider showing mercy.
“Do we execute the mentally ill?” she asked, adding that no matter what the jury decided Smith would never be a free man again. "The only time Mr. Smith will ever leave the custody of the Department of Corrections is in a pine box. The question is: Will that be as the result of a call from a higher power or a call from our governor?”
But the experts and her arguments did not dissuade the jury from recommending the ultimate penalty for Smith.