JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The mother of an 8-year-old girl who was killed after being abducted at a Walmart is pleading with state lawmakers to toughen sex offender laws.
Rayne Perrywinkle angrily spoke Wednesday at a legislative hearing on sex offender laws. She said if nothing is done now, more children like her daughter Cherish will be killed.
"Why wasn't this done years ago when Jimmy Ryce was killed?" Perrywinkle said. "Why wasn't this done four years ago when Somer Thompson was taken. I cried for that mom and I wanted to meet her, and unfortunately through these tragic events with my child, I met Diena Thompson."
"I pity the next mom who's going to be on TV in the next few weeks, next few months, say a year from now, crying on the news that her child was taken," Perrywinkle added.
Republican Rep. Janet Adkins, of Fernandina Beach, called for the hearing as a response to the killing. Registered sex offender Donald Smith is charged with the girl's murder. He was released from prison three weeks before the killing.
About 20 people participated in the hearing before a packed room at Jacksonville City Hall.
Among the suggestions were life sentences for child rapists and conducting risks assessments in all sex offense cases before sentencing.
"They should have an ankle bracelet, they should have a tattoo on their forehead," Perrywinkle said. "Why aren't there stricter laws? They're going to tell lies just to get out on good behavior, right? They don't fantasize about children anymore? That's a lie. They think about it all the time, they plan."
"If nothing happens now, there's going to be another little child on the news with an Amber Alert," Perrywinkle added. "Speaking of which, why did it take six hours for them to start looking for my daughter? I was being blamed for doing this? I didn't do this."
Charlie Wilkie, the K9 handler who found Cherish's body near a church about 10 hours after she disappeared, also spoke at the hearing.
"I took my dog and deployed in an area in the Northside of town and I located Cherish," he said. "Without a doubt, the worst day in my professional career. I know it pales in comparison to what the victims have gone through -- these parents and the poor children. When I found her, I notified the homicide detectives and then I looked up and said, 'My God, who does this? Who does this? And it's got to stop."
On his routine leave from work, Wilkie said he called his legislators and asked for change to keep violent predators behind bars and help parents and their kids sleep safe and sound.
"I hate nightmares. I hate going to bed. I hate waking up in the morning. I hate going outside," Perrywinkle said. "These people let them out. They know what to say. It's in their mind to kill a child before they get out of jail, don't you understand that?"
Adkins said she watched this case unfold since the morning Cherish Perrywinkle went missing, and she thinks there is a lot that can be done to make sure it doesn't happen to any other child.
She said this hearing is the first step to fulfilling her commitment of filing legislation during the next legislative season.
"It's every mother's worst nightmare, the tragedy that occurred that day, and as those events unfolded, there were a lot of questions that certainly I had as a legislator and I think that the community has. How did this happen?" Adkins said.
As a mother of two children herself, Adkins is one of many people in the community still shocked by what happened to 8-year-old Cherish.
Adkins said the kidnapping and killing of the girl is proof that laws related to sex offender crimes against children need to be discussed and adjusted.
"The perpetrator allegedly had community supervision earlier that morning. So the question is, what does community supervision entail? What does that mean?" Adkins said. "Does it simply mean that they are looking at you to say, 'Are you dressed? Do you look OK today?' Or are they really getting in their head to figure out what are they thinking? Are they a threat to our children."
Adkins is talking about convicted sex offender Smith, who is accused of the crime against Cherish.
"We want to look at the barriers for getting harder sentencing," Adkins said. "When you look at the history of this individual, several years ago he had allegedly committed some crimes, and the three felonies were reduced to two misdemeanors. So how did that happen? What are the barriers for getting stronger convictions."
Adkins invited the public to join her and people who work with children, criminals and the law every day to discuss and share ideas about Florida's sex offender laws.
"This will be a very collaborative process as we look to identify ways that we can improve public safety, so certainly the public is invited to come and to participate, to share your thoughts and ideas as to how we can improve our sexual predator laws," she said.
People from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Department of Children and Families, local sheriff's offices and the state attorney's office were all part of the panel.
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