JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — It’s been ten years since 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle was abducted from a Jacksonville Walmart by a convicted sex offender.
Donald Smith met Cherish’s mother Rayne at a Northside store where she was shopping with Cherish and her two sisters.
On June 21, 2013, Rayne followed Smith, who had befriended her and her children, to the Walmart on Lem Turner Road, where he promised to get them food.
Officers with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office said a surveillance image showed Smith leaving the store with Cherish. The next day, the girl was found dead. Police said Smith raped Cherish and dumped her body behind a church off Broward Road.
Smith had convictions for crimes done in 1977, 1992, and 2009. They include allegations of exposing himself to kids, trying to lure kids into his van, and even posing as a Florida Department of Children and Families worker to perform a rape kit on a child. But even after arrests spanning 40 years, the registered sex offender was allowed to go free.
“I don’t know why he fell through the cracks,” Action News Jax law and safety expert Dale Carson said in 2014.
Smith’s trial didn’t take place until February 2018. It took the jury 14 minutes to find Smith guilty in the murder, kidnapping and sexual battery of Cherish.
The jury unanimously recommended a death sentence for Smith.
In May 2018, Smith was sentenced to death by Judge Mallory Cooper.
As she sentenced him to death in Cherish’s murder, Cooper said, “Donald James Smith, may God have mercy on your soul.”
After the sentence, Rayne Perrywinkle had this message for Smith: “I could say burn in hell. That’s what I want to say. I want him to burn in hell. I hope he’s watching this right now actually.”
[SIGN UP: Action News Jax Daily Headlines Newsletter]
In 2020, the Florida Supreme Court took up an appeal from Smith, who asked for a new trial.
In April 2021, the Florida Supreme Court unanimously upheld Smith’s conviction and death sentence. Smith is again appealing his case and a case management conference is set for July 24.
Smith is on death row, currently being held in maximum security at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford.