JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The man facing charges of kidnapping, raping and killing 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle appeared at a pretrial hearing Wednesday morning. For the first time, the victim's mother was in court to face the accused.
Prosecutors say Donald Smith abducted the girl after telling her mother they were going to get something to eat at the McDonald's inside a Northside Walmart store. He was caught on surveillance camera leaving the store with the girl and driving away in his van.
Cherish's body was found the next morning at almost the same time as Smith was stopped in that van and arrested.
Cherish's mother, Rayne, had not been attending the court hearings for Smith because she said they were too emotional and the pain was unbearable.
Wednesday, supported by victim advocates and Diena Thompson, mother of child murder victim Somer Thompson, Rayne Perrywinkle sat in the front row of the courtroom and watched the proceedings.
Rayne Perrywinkle was advised by prosecutors not to talk about the case publicly, but Thompson spoke on her behalf.
"I'm here to support Rayne," Thompson said. "Any mother who gets put in this position, the same as mine, deserves to have somebody standing beside her who knows exactly what she is going through right now."
Perrywinkle complained privately that Smith wouldn't look her in the eye.
"I think that anybody in this position would want to just hurry up and rip the Band-Aid off," Thompson said. "Unfortunately our justice system is not a quick system. She's just preparing now to get used to going to the courtroom and just being strong to stand up against the monsters."
Friends and advocates say Cherish Perrywinkle's mother is having a hard time facing the realities after losing her daughter was killed, and the pain isn't going away. They say she is trying to be strong as she fights for justice for Cherish.
Perrywinkle also continues to fight for custody of her two other children. She was recently given permission from a family court judge to have more frequent visits with them.
Smith's trial is scheduled for October, but he will be back in court July 16 for another pretrial hearing. Prosecutors say they intend to seek the death penalty.
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