JACKSONVILLE -- (WKMG) -- Circuit Judge Mallory Cooper followed a jury's recommendation and sentenced Donald Smith to death Wednesday in the 2013 rape and murder of 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle.
Cooper, who came out of retirement to see the high-profile case through, handed down the death penalty for Perrywinkle's murder and life sentences for the remaining counts.
"May God have mercy on your soul," the judge told Smith.
Earlier, Cooper denied motions from Smith's defense attorneys that sought a new trial and new penalty phase for their client, on the grounds that he did not receive a fair trial.
Rayne Perrywinkle, Cherish's mother, was visibly emotional in court. She waited almost five years to hear the sentencing of the man who murdered her daughter.
"It's overwhelming. It's like I never thought this day would come, and now it's here," Perrywinkle said. "I don't move forward, I just exist now. I want to fight for children. That's the only thought going through my head."
Perrywinkle said she wants stronger laws to keep predators in prison.
"I had no clue he was a predator. He was let out for 21 days before he did this," Perrywinkle said. "Everyday I'm reminded by what he's done. It's not fair."
Jurors recommended in February that Smith, 61, be put to death for his crimes after finding him guilty of first-degree murder, sexual battery and kidnapping charges in the little girl's slaying.
Nearly five years after the tortured body of 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle was found discarded in the woods behind a church on Jacksonville's Northside, her killer is set to learn his fate Wednesday.
It's up to Circuit Judge Mallory Cooper to decide whether to follow a jury's unanimous recommendation that Donald Smith be put to death for his crimes, or to sentence him instead to life in prison.
Jurors in February convicted Smith, 61, of first-degree murder, sexual battery and kidnapping charges in the high-profile 2013 killing that shook the Jacksonville community to its core.