Emotional testimony reveals circumstances of kidnap, rape, murder of Cherish Perrywinkle
02/26/2018 4:03 pm PST
A high-profile Florida trial will break your heart: A mother of a little girl is forced to face the man accused of luring her daughter to her death.
Some of the details in this story are disturbing.
If you want to know what the face of evil looks like: Donald Smith is a 61-year-old sicko who smiled for the cameras just minutes after a jury heard the disgusting details of what he had done to an 8-year-old girl. The testimony was so graphic and so emotional that one witness had to stop.
Crime Watch Daily has all the heartbreaking and dramatic moments from inside a Jacksonville, Florida courtroom. And the verdict is in.
It was June 21, 2013. Cherish Perrywinkle, 8, walks alongside a man who looks like her grandfather, skipping after him as he walks out the front door. But it's not what it seems.
"He said 'You look like you've got your hands full. I have a couple of little ones,'" Rayne Perrywinkle, Cherish's mother, testified in court.
On the witness stand, Cherish's mother Rayne described how she came to know Donald Smith. She was shopping for clothes at a Dollar General store with Cherish and her two sisters, but couldn't afford to get everything they wanted. That's when Donald Smith said:
"'If you really want that dress, I'll get it for you,'" Rayne testified.
At first, Rayne says, she was suspicious, but Smith insisted he just wanted to help -- even showing her his driver's license to assure her.
"He said 'I have a $150 gift card. I'm waiting on my wife,'" said Rayne.
Store surveillance video shows them waiting for that wife for nearly half an hour in the parking lot, before Smith made another offer. His wife was headed to Walmart; he suggests Rayne and her girls drive over with him and finish their shopping there.
"He looked into my face and told me I was safe," said Rayne.
"Did you want to believe him?" the prosecutor asked.
"Yes, very much so," said Rayne.
The mother and her three girls head inside Walmart. And as the Perrywinkles try on clothes, Smith joins them.
"He was just walking around watching us," says Rayne Perrywinkle. "And I asked him 'Where's your wife?' 'She's coming.'"
As they loaded the cart with dresses and shoes, Smith only adds one item, one that would take on new meaning in the hours to come.
"Does that photograph show the bundle of rope that the defendant placed in the shopping cart while you were shopping at Walmart?" the prosecutor asks.
"Yes," Rayne says.
At that point it was 10 p.m. Perrywinkle's three girls were getting fussy and hungry. Smith had a solution for that as well.
"He used his hand and he said 'I'm going to McDonald's. What do you want to eat?'" says Rayne.
Smith then took off toward the McDonald's inside the store, and Cherish Perrywinkle followed.
"Why did you feel it OK to let Cherish walk to McDonald's with the defendant?" the prosecutor asks.
"If he would have asked me if he could take her, I would have said no, but because McDonald's is inside Walmart with people around, I knew she would never leave," said Rayne.
But somehow Smith convinces Cherish to leave. First, they pause by the front door. Then moments later she skips out behind him and gets into his white van. As he drives off, a witness tells police the van stopped, the driver looked her in the eye and said with a smile, "We're going to get cheeseburgers."
Minutes later Rayne hears a message on the overhead speaker: the store is closing.
"I looked through every aisle at the register. There was no one there," Rayne says on the stand. "I started to panic. I was yelling 'Call 911, my daughter's been taken.'"
With tears streaming down her face, Rayne Perrywinkle listened to that call on the witness stand.
Rayne: "My daughter's been taken."
911: "What do you mean?"
Rayne: "Taken by a stranger. I can't find her."
Her panic has now become pure fear.
Rayne: "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.' Maybe he was grooming her. I hope to God he doesn't kill her. I hope to God he doesn't rape her."
"When your daughter followed after this defendant towards McDonald's, was that the last time you ever saw your daughter alive?" the prosecutor asks in court.
"Yes," says Rayne.
Cops rush to the Walmart. Rayne provided them with a key detail.
Rayne: "He said his name is Don."
As in Donald Smith -- and cops know him well. He has a rap sheet going back nearly four decades. The pervert had just been released from prison three weeks earlier.
Sheriff's deputies searched all night for Smith and Cherish. The next morning a tipster called 911.
Caller: "Hi, we are calling about a suspicious van over here. A white van. It was parked behind some bushes really deep."
A short time later cops corner Smith's white van on Interstate 95. He's busted wearing the same T-shirt he had on in the Walmart, and dripping wet from the waist down.
But where is Cherish Perrywinkle?
Fifteen minutes later, they discover her body by a creek behind a church.
Smith was charged with multiple felonies, including first-degree murder. But his depravity didn't stop there. In court prosecutors played a conversation recorded from behind bars between Donald Smith and a fellow inmate after the pair watched a group touring the prison.
Smith: "You know how old they are? About 12."
Inmate: "You still think she's 12?"
Smith: "Yeah. That's right up my alley right there."
Smith: "That's my target area right there. That's what I go after. Yeah, I'd like to run into her at Walmart."
As the recording was played in court, Donald Smith sat quietly, seeming to enjoy the looks of revulsion on the jurors' faces as they listened. And he projected the same demeanor as the medical examiner described the horrors Cherish Perrywinkle endured. At one point the medical examiner became too emotional to go on.
"I'm sorry, I have to take a break. Can I just have like five minutes?" said Dr. Valerie Rao in court.
What she couldn't say, prosecutor Mark Caliel did say in his closing arguments.
The details are quite disturbing.
"He selected her. He lured her away from her family. He made her feel safe through his lies and his deception, and then he preyed upon her," Caliel said. "He raped her. He sodomized her. He tore her apart. And then he took something, he wrapped it around that little girl's neck, and he strangled the life out of her."
Smith's defense team wouldn't even address the jury. The perverted predator and admitted crack addict told them not to bother.
The case went to the jury, and in only 12 minutes a decision was reached: "We the jury find the defendant guilty of first-degree murder as charged in the indictment."
Guilty on all counts. The jury recommends the death penalty for Donald Smith.
Diena Thompson spoke on Rayne Perrywinkle's behalf. Diena knows all too well what the grieving mother is going through. Her daughter Somer Thompson was also kidnapped and killed.
"I'm here to support Rayne. Any mother who gets put in this position, the same as mine, deserves to have somebody standing beside her who knows exactly what she's going through right now," said Thompson outside of court.
She urges the community to show compassion for a mother who is forced to live the rest of her life replaying those moments inside of Walmart.
"We are the fighters for these children and we are here to try to help another mother, another child not to have to go through something like this," Thompson said.
Rayne Perrywinkle also lost custody of her other children following the murder. The girls were adopted in 2013 by an aunt who lives in Australia.
Donald Smith is expected to be sentenced for his crimes in March 2018.