• Six things we learned after two days of the Cherish Perrywinkle trial


    ACTION NEWS JAX INVESTIGATES: A glimpse inside of the mind of an accused child killer

    Note: Closing arguments in the trial of Donald Smith are scheduled for Wednesday. 


    1. The medical examiner said that Cherish Perrywinkle died from being strangled, probably with a piece of clothing. Her injuries were inflicted before she died. 

    “What she sustained was tremendous force on her neck, such that she basically, she could not breathe. She suffered swelling of her brain as a result of lack of oxygen to her brain, and as a result of which, she died,” said Valerie Rao, the medical examiner who worked on the Perrywinkle case. 

    Rao said took between three and five minutes for Cherish to die. The force used during the strangulation was so strong that Cherish suffered skin abrasions, Rao testified. 

    2. Rao, an experienced medical examiner who was conducted thousands of autopsies, unexpectedly asked for a recess during her testimony. 

    Dr. Rao seemed overwhelmed by the autopsy photos in court. "Can I have 5 minutes?" she asked. 

    The defense immediately asked for a mistrial when Dr. Rao asked for a break. The state argued that it's difficult for even professionals to stay composed.

    The motion for a mistrial was denied. 

    3. Dr. Rao had Donald Smith photographed, and noted injuries to his genitals.

    The jury was shown photos of Smith, as well as his clothing from the day he was arrested.  

    Smith was examined at the Police Memorial Building, and he had injuries to his penis which related to trauma and were consistent with the timing of Cherish’s death. 

    4. The defense rested without calling a single witness. 

    The trial -- a potential death penalty case -- was expected to last several days, but could possibly be completed as soon as Wednesday. 

    5. The DNA taken from Cherish Perrywinkle was a 1 in 35 quintillion match to Smith, experts say. 

    Cherish was submerged in water, so some of the DNA could have been washed away. However, semen was was found in multiple locations on Cherish’s body, and other DNA was recovered from around her neck.

    Experts said they were able to get a full DNA profile of Smith from samples that were sent to the lab. 

    6. In 2015, authorities placed microphones in vents at the Duval County Jail and recorded Smith reportedly discussing the case with a fellow inmate. 

    Smith made comments about a group of girls in the jail -- he could be heard in the recording saying they're about 12 or 13 years old.

    "That's right up my alley, right there, that's my target area," he's heard saying. "I'd like to run into her at Walmart."

    The inmate asked Smith if "Cherish had a butt on her."

    Smith is heard on the recording saying, "She ain't black, but she had a lot for a white girl."

    After the recording, State Attorney Melissa Nelson rested the state's case. 

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