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Action News Investigates: A glimpse inside of the mind of an accused child killer

by: Dawn Lopez Updated:

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DUVAL COUNTY, Fla. - Soon, the family of 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle will watch the 57-year-old man arrested in connection with her slaying, stand trial.

While her son faces justice, Donald Smith’s mother is dealing with the tragedy and working to heal from it. In a videotaped counseling session, Patricia Moore morphs from bewilderment to later understanding that she may have missed some very important warning signs in her son.

Moore knew she was being recorded, and agreed that it could be released.


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"I'm Patricia Moore, my son is Donald James Smith," said in a taped counseling session between the mother of Donald  'Don' Smith and Dr. Kaye Smith, a sex abuse counselor. "Don is accused of kidnapping, raping and killing Cherish Perrywinkle."

"I was never led to believe there was anything emotionally wrong with him, only maybe depression and drugs," Moore said.

Moore said her son was first arrested in 1977 for exposing himself to children, but she thought it was a misunderstanding. He was then arrested for sex-related offenses in the '80s and '90s.

"As Don's mother, I know the loving side of Don. I never thought in a million years I could ever believe my son could be capable of hurting another person," Moore said in the tape.

"Most sociopaths have a very good side to them. They pick up your mail while you’re on vacation. Donald Smith fell right into that. He had a lot of people that loved him," said Dr. Kaye Smith. "But then again, they can have another side of them where their demons are screaming. There’s no doubt in my mind, Donald Smith’s demons were screaming.”


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Smith was also charged in 2003 with pretending to be a Florida Department of Children and Families worker and calling a 9-year-old girl, asking her sexual questions and threatening her family. But, Dr. Kaye Smith said these are all signs of a sociopath. 

When Smith was sentenced to three years in prison under the Jimmy Rice Act, he was supposed to get intense counseling.

"I believe each step he could’ve been crying out for help and no one was listening to the mind of the offender. He was under the Jimmy Rice Act, that alone could’ve stopped him but it didn’t,” Dr. Kaye Smith said.

Moore said, "He indicated the whole time he was there, there was very little therapy, counselors were dismissed or fired, others hired. But, the whole program was ineffective."

Smith checked himself in at UF Health Jacksonville for help days after being released from prison. He reportedly wanted to be placed under the Baker Act, under which he was held for four to five days.


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Moore said Smith was sent home with a list of names for appointments. But, within days he met a mother at a Northside store with her daugthers. Cherish Perrywinkle's mother followed Smith, who had befriended her and her children, to a Walmart where he promised to get them food. Officers with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office said a surveillance image shows Smith leaving the store with Perrywinkle. Hours later, the girl was found dead. Her body dumped behind a church off Broward Road.

Moore said Smith insisted that she sell his van before he was released from prison. But, she didn’t because she wanted him to work and support himself.

Moore said Smith talked about Perrywinkle and believes her son wanted to tell her more about meeting the little girl and her mother, maybe even confess; however, their visits were cut off.

"First time, I met with Don on a visitation, he tried to relay some things to me. One of the things he tried to tell me was the fact he and Cherish prayed together," Moore said.


Complete Coverage: Remembering Cherish


Moore says all she has to offer is a heartfelt, "If I could just relay to Ms. Perrywinkle how deeply, deeply sorry I am for the loss and how I feel for her as a mother, I'm deeply sorry about that."

"In Mrs. Moore's case, she believed everything this man said to her, she wanted to believe the best for her son," Dr. Kaye Smith said when asked if he thought Moore was in denial.

"I can't stop hoping we get it right, and understand the mind of pedophiles, that we question the mind of an offender. We have no choice; we don't live in Kansas anymore," Dr. Kaye Smith said.

A handful of bills have passed the Florida House and Senate to jail sexual offenders and predators longer and order them to a psychiatric review once they complete their sentences.