The Murder of Cherish Perrywinkle

Cherish Lily Perrywinkle

On June 21, 2013, Donald Smith kidnapped Cherish Perrywinkle, 8, from a Walmart. He raped and strangled her.

Background

On June 21, 2013, Cherish Perrywinkle was in a Dollar General with her mother Rayne Perrywinkle and her sisters. Rayne had told an employee that she did not have money to buy her daughter a dress. A man, Donald James Smith, had overheard Rayne and offered to go to Walmart with the family and buy them some clothing with a gift card he claimed to have.

Smith drove with Rayne and her children to Walmart. They spent multiple hours shopping in the store. At one point, Smith offered to buy McDonalds; he and Cherish went to pick up the Cheeseburgers. Instead of going to McDonalds, which was already closed, Smith lead Cherish out of the store, to his van, and drove away. Security cameras would record them leaving at 10:44 p.m.

Reported Missing

Rayne called 911 once she realized her daughter was not getting food with Smith, around 11:00 p.m., on June 21, 2013.

Cherish’s Remains are Found

According to court documents, on the morning of June 22, 2013, police noticed Smith’s van. They pulled him over and arrested him. Smith was soaking wet when the police apprehended him. A tip led police to Cherish’s remains. They found her under debris, in a creek, behind a church. She had been raped, sodomized, and strangled.

Arrest

Smith was arrested and charged with kidnapping, sexual batter of a person under 12, and first-degree murder. On June 22, 2013, a grand jury indicted him.

The prosecution filed a noticed, stating they intended to seek the death penalty, citing 6 aggravating factors. The aggravating factors were: 1. Having a previous felony conviction for the use of threat of violence to a person 2. The murder was committed during a kidnapping and sexual battery; 3. The murder was committed to avoid arrest; 4. The murder was especially heinous, or cruel; 5. The murder was premeditated, cold, and calculated; 6 Cherish Perrywinkle was less than 12 years of age.

Prior Arrest

Smith had prior arrests for sex crimes in 1977, 1992, and 2009.

In 1977, he was arrested for lewd and lascivious assault in the presence of a child under 16. He was placed on probation as a “mentally disordered sex offender.”

He violated his probation in 1981 and went back to prison. In 1992, Smith was arrested for attempted kidnapping and providing obscene materials to minors. He received a five-and-a-half-year sentence.

In 2003, Smith was arrested again for trafficking in stolen property, providing false information to a pawnbroker. He received two and a half years.

In 2009, police arrested Smith for making an obscene call to a 10-year-old girl. According to news outlets, Smith called a cellphone belonging to a 10-year-old boy and asked to speak to his little sister. The boy gave the phone to his mother. Smith then told the mom that he was with the Department of Children and Families, and someone had made allegations that the little girl had been molested. Smith demanded to speak to the girl but would not tell the mom more information, due to the ongoing investigation Smith stated he was working. The mom put the little girl on the phone. Smith asked her what she was wearing, if she wore a bra, where she lived, and other inappropriate questions. Smith then asked to meet the girl to a location at a neutral location, but the meeting never happened. Police were able to conduct a sting with an undercover officer and Smith and he was arrested.

Donald Smith

Jail Conversations

While in prison, Smith was recorded speaking to his mother about going back to jail. He was heard boasting that there were television cameras in the court room. At one point he states, “Try to kill the president? I wouldn’t have got this kind of press.” “It’s the worst charge you could ever get! It’s the worst charge you can have in in history of anything, that’s the worst. And coupled with [a little kid] that makes it emotional.”

Smith was also recorded telling another inmate that that a 12-year-old girl, who was on a tour of the jail, was right up his alley. Smith was heard saying, “That’s right up my alley right there. That’s my target area right there.”  

Trial

Smith took his case to trial, which started on February 5, 2018. During the trial, Cherish’s injuries were described and shown to the jury. According to court documents, pictures included her “exposed skull and trachea” and genitals.  

In another conversation, Smith states, “All the details are this, capital, premeditated capital murder. Capital is the charge, capital sexual battery on a minor under the age of 12 and kidnapping from a Walmart. Those ingredients right there are a nuclear bomb. You have kidnapping, you have death, and you have rape of a child. That is explosive material. To the max.”

The jury deliberated for 19 minutes. On February 14, 2018, they found Smith guilty of all three charges. During the sentencing trial, the victim from his 1992 crime testified, along with a psychologist, neurologist, and Smith’s son. The jury rejected all but 2 of the aggravating factors and recommended Smith receive the death penalty. A Spencer hearing was held; the trial court agreed Smith be sentenced to death on May 2, 2018.

Smith appealed his death sentenced in April 2022. His death sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court of Florida.

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