JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Reporters were asked to leave a Duval County family courtroom Wednesday as the custody case of Rayne Perrywinkle's two surviving daughters continued.
Nevaeh and Destiny Perrywinkle were placed in state custody after the June 2013 slaying of Cherish Perrywinkle. Initially, Rayne Perrywinkle had visitation rights with the girls, but those were suspended.
All involved parties asked Judge Henry Davis to close the hearing to address the custody for Nevaeh and Destiny, which he did, then issued a gag order to keep those remaining in the courtroom from talking to the media. A short time later the hearing was continued until 9 a.m. Monday.
The girl's older, adult half-sister, Lindsay Hoy, who lives in Australia and is seeking custody, was in town, but did not attend the hearing. Reporters from Australia joined local media outside the courtroom.
Amy Decker, who has known the girls for years, took them into her home temporarily after Cherish's death, and is working hard to help find them a safe and supportive home.
"They're beautiful and bright and sassy and loving and they need that kind of environment to support," Decker said outside Wednesday's hearing. "There are lots of wonderful people here in Jacksonville that have love in their heart and loving homes that these little girls could grow up in."
Last month, Rayne Perrywinkle made a case for getting her daughters back in an interview with News4Jax.
"They want me to come home. They want to be with me," Perrywinkle said. "They miss me, I miss them. I want to be in their lives. This never should have happened."
Donald Smith, a convicted sex offender, is charged with kidnapping, capital sexual battery and first-degree murder in Cherish's death.
Police said Smith met Rayne Perrywinkle at a dollar store, then took the family to a Northside Walmart with the promise of buying them clothes, and left with Cherish under the pretense of buying her a hamburger.
Within a few hours of an Amber Alert being issued, Cherish's body was found and Smith was arrested. He is scheduled for a pretrial hearing Wednesday and his trial is set for October.
Since Perrywinkle's other two children were taken away from her, people have protested outside the Duval County Courthouse, saying she should not get her kids back. They say she's unfit to properly care for them. But Perrywinkle says she's perfectly capable and is sick of being silent about it.
"I've been quiet long enough, listening to people make fools of themselves," Perrywinkle said.
She said her children are currently living with a foster mom until the Department of Children and Families can find a permanent home for them. Perrywinkle is hoping that's with her.
"I see Destiny and Nevaeh once a week for two hours, and we have to cram all these activities into that small amount of time," she said. "And I look forward to seeing them every week, and when I leave, it breaks my heart and sometimes I cry, but that's what we have to deal with right now until they come back to me."
DCF tries to help place kids in a permanent home within a year of them being taken away from their parents. But a spokesman said it's a case-by-case basis and the best interest of the kids is the bottom line. DCF can make recommendations, but only judges have the authority to terminate parental rights.
Perrywinkle said she's doing everything she's supposed to do to get her kids back, and she's hoping that can happen soon, because the last 13 months have been unimaginable.
"To tell you the truth, it's not a life I want anyone to live," she said. "My life is altered now forever. And I do the best that I can for myself. I live every day one at a time. And I bleed like anyone else, I cry like anyone else, and people judge me all the time and they have to answer to a big God."
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