"The fact that this guy got a decent deal, speaks volumes," Kuritz said. "There must have been a problem with the state's case."

Smith was released May 31 but was still being monitored by authorities as a condition of parole. Officers even checked in on Smith the morning of June 21 in the home he shared with his mother. That same evening, he met Perrywinkle and her children.

According to court records and police reports, Perrywinkle didn't have a car. Police said Smith saw she seemed like she needed money. So he offered to buy the dress for Cherish, who was supposed to fly to California the next day to visit her father, and the family climbed into his van and headed to Walmart.

Donald Smith at Walmart Surveillance video shows they spent a couple of hours in the store, and Smith then took Cherish with him to buy McDonald's for the family. But they never got the hamburgers -- Smith took Cherish outside, got into his van with her and left, said Jacksonville Police Director Mike Williams.

When they hadn't returned after a half-hour, Perrywinkle called police, and an all-night search ensued. Officers compiled a list of nearby sex offenders, and Perrywinkle identified Smith as a suspect.

Nine hours later, Cherish's body was found a few miles away, near Highlands Baptist Church on Broward Road.

Smith is charged with murder and kidnapping, held without bail awaiting his next court hearing. His public defender did not return a call for comment, and his mother was not home when an Associated Press reporter visited.

Gerald Wilkerson, the attorney for Cherish's father in the custody case, said his client is devastated. Jarreau himself posted about the tragedy on his Facebook page, blaming failures in the "system" for his daughter's death.

On a recent day at Rayne Perrywinkle's home, her boyfriend and the father of her two youngest children, Aharon Pearson, walked outside and asked a reporter, "Do you have the number for Child Protective Services?" He initially thought the state's child welfare agency had taken their children, but later explained he misunderstood Perrywinkle and that the children had been taken only for an interview.

Pearson said things had been hectic because of the need to plan Cherish's funeral. He said his girlfriend wasn't doing well and could not talk at the home, where three faded, plastic children's tricycles were lined up on the porch.

"She won't eat," he said. "She hasn't eaten for four days."