Chilling 911 call reveals moments after Cherish Perrywinkle's kidnapping
Video shows accused killer shopping, then leaving store with 8-year-old girl
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As Donald Smith awaits trial on charges that he kidnapped, raped and murdered 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle in June 2013, the state attorney's office has released more evidence in the case, including surveillance footage of Smith with the girl's family in a Northwest Jacksonville Walmart and a haunting 911 call from Cherish's mother after she realized the girl had been taken from the store.
Smith, a registered sex offender, was released from jail only 21 days before his arrest June 22, 2013, 10 hours after the girl was abducted from the Walmart on Lem Turner Road while shopping with her mother.
Surveillance video shows Smith shopping with Cherish and her family inside the Walmart, and another camera at the store's exit shows Smith casually walking out of the store with the little girl.
Not long after that, Smith's van can be seen on surveillance footage from the parking lot, driving away from the store.
Earlier that evening, Smith, 56, befriended Cherish, her sisters and her mother at a Dollar General store and offered to take them to Walmart to buy the family some clothes, police said.
After spending a couple of hours inside the Walmart together, Smith offered to buy hamburgers and walked with Cherish to the McDonald's at the front of the store, police said. Instead of stopping to buy food, Smith walked Cherish outside and the two of them got into his van, police said.
Rayne Perrywinkle, Cherish's mother, called 911 after she began to suspect Smith had left with the girl.
“I'm hoping he's not raping her right now,” a sobbing Perrywinkle told the 911 operator. “She's supposed to go to California in the morning on a plane.”
Perrywinkle told the operator how Smith had befriended her and offered to buy her children clothes with a $100 Walmart gift card. She said she only went with him from the Dollar General after he said his wife would be meeting him at Walmart.
“We've been here probably two hours, and she didn't show up. I have this cart full of clothes that he said he was going to pay for,” Perrywinkle said. “I had a bad feeling. I feel like pinching myself because this is too good to be true. I got to the checkout, and he's not here.”
Neither was Cherish.
“I hope to God he doesn't kill her. I hope to God he doesn't rape her," Perrywinkle told the 911 operator. “I don't understand why he would leave right now unless he's going to rape her and kill her. That's the only reason."
Perrywinkle wept bitterly as she lamented to the operator that she couldn't remember details about what Cherish was wearing or what Smith's van looked like. She only knew that it was a white van.
“I need to sit down and be calm and try to close my eyes and remember what Cherish was wearing," Perrywinkle said. “I don't want him to kill her. I don't want to be one of those parents who are going through this."
She said she felt responsible for allowing Smith to take them to the Walmart in the first place.
“My girls need clothes so bad. That's why I let him do it," she said.
Authorities put out an Amber Alert with details of Smith's van about six hours after police received Perrywinkle's 911 call.
The news about the police looking for Smith led his roommate, Charlie, to call 911 to help police track Smith down.
“I am calling about the person you're looking for, Donald Smith,” Charlie said on the 911 call. “I helped him take a couple seats out of his van yesterday.”
About 9 a.m., an officer working at the scene of a traffic crash on Interstate 95 recognized Smith's van as it drove past her and called it in. Smith was taken into custody after police cornered his white van on I-95 near I-10.
The highway was shut down while other officers with guns drawn pulled Smith over and arrested him. Cherish was not in the van.
About the same time Smith was arrested, a tip called in to 911 about a suspicious van spotted on Broward Road led investigators to search woods near Highlands Baptist Church.
“We are calling about a suspicious van over here,” the woman told the 911 operator. “It is not there anymore, but we don't know if he dumped anything, because we heard a girl just got abducted from Walmart.”
Within the hour, police found Cherish's body, a discovery that caused her mother to collapse and another person to call 911 to ask for emergency assistance for her.
Smith's trial has been repeatedly delayed, most recently pushed back to September, after new rules on Florida's death penalty take effect.
The U.S. Supreme Court declared Florida's capital punishment law unconstitutional in January because it gave too much authority to the judge about whether a convict should be sentenced to death. The new law requires a jury vote of at least 10-2 for someone to receive a death sentence.
Another issue in the case has been whether Smith should be tried in Jacksonville or elsewhere.
Attorney Randy Reep, who's not connected with the case, said he thinks the release of the surveillance videos and 911 calls to the public could bolster the defense's argument for a change of venue, but it's unlikely the trial would actually be moved.
"I don't think it will meet the threshold," Reep said. "I don't think you'll see this case likely get moved out of Jacksonville."
Reep said it's doubtful the videos will change public opinion about Smith.
“As it relates to public impression, I think Donald Smith, for people who know about the case, probably see him as one of the most horrific characters in our community in recent years, so I don't think that will change things in a big way," Reep said.
Reep said the video effectively captures the state's efforts to portray Smith as a predator.
"Some videos don't capture things as well as others. I think that does a great job," Reep said. "It is prejudicial to be sure, but I think very valuable."
Perrywinkle, who has attended every Donald Smith hearing since shortly after his arrest, said her lawyer has advised her not to comment but added, "After the trial, I’ll talk."
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