JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The registered sex offender released from jail only 21 days before he is accused of kidnapping and killing 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle was back before a judge Sunday morning and ordered held without bond.
Ten hours after the girl was taken from the Walmart on Lem Turner Road late Friday night while shopping with her mother, Donald James Smith of Jacksonville was taken into custody after police cornered his white van on Interstate 95 near I-10, according to Mike Williams, director of investigations at the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.
Authorities put out an Amber Alert with details of Smith's van early Saturday, about six hours after police received a 911 call from Cherish's mother saying her daughter was missing.
Earlier Friday evening, Smith, 56, befriended Cherish and her mother at a Dollar General store and "offered to take them to Walmart and buy her family some clothes," Williams said. "They appeared to be down on their luck and he could help them out."
After spending a couple hours inside the Walmart together, Smith offered to buy hamburgers and walked with Cherish to the McDonald's at the front of the store. Instead of stopping to buy food, Smith walked Cherish outside and the two of them got into his van, Williams said.
The girl's mother called 911 when she realized Cherish and Smith were missing. It was after midnight when police put out an alert for Smith's van and the state issued an Amber Alert after 5 a.m.
About 9 a.m. an officer working at the scene of a traffic crash on Interstate 95 on Saturday morning recognized Smith's van as it drove past her and called it in.
The highway was shut down while other officers with guns drawn pulled Smith over and arrested him. Cherish was not in the van and Williams said Smith did not provide any information to police.
About the same time Smith was arrested, a tip about a suspicious van spotted on Broward Road led investigators to search woods near Highlands Baptist Church. Within the hour, police found a body. Police are waiting for positive identification.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Spelling of Cherish Perrywinkle's name
Williams did not answer reporters' questions about how Cherish died or what Smith did in the hours between his disappearance with the girl and his arrest, saying that the investigation remains open.
Smith has been a registered sex offender since a 1993 conviction in Duval County for attempted kidnapping and selling obscene materials. He has been arrested several times since then, most recently in 2009 on a charge of child abuse after making obscene phone calls to a 10-year-old girl, making verbal threats, and impersonating a social worker with the Florida Department of Children and Families who claimed to be investigating the girl's family. [Archive article/video from September 2009 arrest]
Smith pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges in that case and was released from jail May 31.
Williams said officers had just visited Smith on Friday morning at his registered address -- his mother's home near DuPont Middle School in Lakewood -- to ensure he was complying with state law on sex offenders.
At Sunday's brief court hearing, Judge Roberto Arias appointed Assistant Public Defender Fred Gazaleh to represent Smith. His next hearing was scheduled for July 16.
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