JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Nearly a month after they were taken away from their mother, Cherish Perrywinkle's sisters still remain in foster care. On Thursday, a judge will hear from both sides in the custody case.
Police say 8-year-old Cherish was kidnapped, raped and killed on June 21. On July 10, the Department of Children and Families removed the girl's half-sisters from their home.
Now their parents, Rayne Perrywinkle and Aharon Pearson, are each fighting for custody of them.
Rayne says losing Cherish was the worst thing any parent could imagine. But then her two daughters were taken away, and things got even worse. Now she says she can't rest until she gets them back.
"I'm being punished for what happened with Cherish," she said.
Rayne believes that's why 5-year-old Neveah and 4-year-old Destiny were taken away from her, temporarily placed in foster care until a judge makes a final decision. The grieving mother feels helpless.
"They want to cry and talk to me about it, but I'm being monitored all the time," Rayne said. "Every time I see my children in visitation, I'm not allowed to talk to them in the way a mother should be able to talk to a child."
DCF will not comment on the children's custody case but did confirm it has worked with the family many times before. Last week, it released documents of investigations into how Cherish was treated. But DCF never found enough danger to take the girl away from her mom.
The battle for Cherish's younger sisters is complicated. Since Cherish was killed, Rayne and the younger children's father -- Aharon Pearson -- split up. Sources say he's battling for custody of the girls, not only against Rayne, but against his father, Tom Pearson.
Now, the future for Destiny and Nevaeh will be decided in court.
"It's extremely difficult," said Patrick Kilbane, a family law attorney not involved in the case.
Kilbane says each party will have to prove they're the best option for raising the girls.
"Drug tests, parental fitness evaluations, making sure the parents have stable employment, stable housing, things likes that," he said. "The department, if they can, will certainly want to try to reunify the children with their parents if the safety of the children can be assured."
Aharon and Tom Pearson couldn't be reached Wednesday, but Rayne said she's the one whom Destiny and Nevaeh need to be with during this very difficult time.
"I'm doing everything that I possibly can to work with the judge and work with DCF or (Mental Health Resource Center) to get my children back."
A custody hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday at the Duval County Courthouse in front of Judge David Gooding.
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