Donald James Smith, 61, is accused of the rape, torture, and murder of 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle.
The trial for Smith is currently underway in a courtroom in Florida. If convicted of his first-degree charges, Smith could face a possible death penalty, reports the Associated Press.Florida Department of Law Enforcement
According to the Florida Times-Union, Cherish’s mother, Rayne Perrywinkle, testified she was shopping with her three daughters at a Dollar General on June 21, 2013, when Smith noticed her putting clothing back on the rack because she was unable to afford them.
Perrywinkle said Smith reportedly had been hovering around her family as she shopped and then approached her and offered to take the family to Walmart where they could spend a $150 gift card, AP reports. Smith told Perrywinkle his name was Don and he had children of his own.
Smith later told a 911 dispatcher: “I should’ve told him no but my girls need clothes so bad. I’m so sorry.”
The AP reports Perrywinkle stated she was wary of the offer but accepted because Smith said his wife would meet them there. Smith drove Perrywinkle and her three daughters in his van to a nearby Walmart.
According to a police report, Perrywinkle said she told Smith at the time: “I don’t usually go with strangers, but if your wife is coming, then it’s OK,” reports People.
AP reports that on the stand, Perrywinkle said Smith assured her she was safe: “He looked into my face and told me I was safe.”
At Walmart, Perrywinkle began shopping for her three daughters. After shopping past 10 p.m., Perrywinkle told Smith her daughters were getting restless because they hadn’t eaten dinner. Smith offered to buy the girls cheeseburgers at the McDonald’s located inside the store and took Cherish along with him.
Twenty minutes later, Perrywinkle realized the McDonald’s in the store was closed. According to the AP, surveillance video reportedly showed Smith leaving the store with Cherish “skipping out” behind him.
State Attorney Melissa Nelson told the court during opening statements: “No one noticed. It looked like a grandfather and a granddaughter.”
Perrywinkle said she called out her daughter had been “taken” because she didn’t have a working cell phone, but no one at the store offered immediate help. Perrywinkle was finally able to call 911 on a store employee’s cell phone 40 minutes after her daughter disappeared, according to AP.
Perrywinkle told 911 operators: “I hope to God he doesn’t kill her and I hope to God he doesn’t rape her,” reports People.
The following morning, AP reports, Cherish’s body was found several miles away in a creek. Smith was reportedly wet from the waist down upon his arrest.
According to the Florida Times-Union, Smith has a criminal history of preying on children beginning in the 1970s and had been out of jail for three weeks. Nelson described the death of Cherish as “torture”: “Cherish did not die quickly, and she did not die easily. In fact, hers was a brutal and tortured death.”
According to WJAX-TV, Smith refused to look at autopsy photos of the little girl that were shown to the jury. During closing arguments, prosecutor Mark Caliel told the courtroom Smith had deceived Perrywinkle into believing he was a good person:
“He saw that she was down on her luck and money was tight. She’s debating whether to buy or not buy a $7 dress at Dollar General. Sometimes in this world, we like to think that there is goodness in man. And that day, Rayne Perrywinkle hoped that his intentions were true and pure. He looks like a harmless old man. Little did she know what lurked beneath the surface. ‘Cheeseburgers.’ That’s the last word Rayne Perrywinkle got to say to her little girl.”
Following Perrywinkle’s testimony, the Florida Times-Union wrote, Smith reportedly told his defense attorney not to cross-examine the mother, telling the judge: “I don’t want her to have to go through anything she doesn’t have to go through. I’m done.”
Nelson is reported to have told the jury: “Every mother’s darkest nightmare became Rayne Perrywinkle’s reality.”