JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Accused murderer Donald Smith's trial has been delayed for the sixth time after the Florida Supreme Court ruled that it would take a unanimous jury verdict to recommend the death penalty.
Smith is accused of the 2013 kidnapping, rape and murder of Cherish Perrywinkle.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in Smith's case, and the Supreme Court's ruling has delayed his trial, which had been set for Jan. 17.
Both prosecutors and the defense asked the judge delay the trial date because of the death penalty issue, which state lawmakers still have to address when they reconvene. The judge agreed.
Rayne Perrywinkle, Cherish's mother, said it's extremely difficult for her that the trial has been delayed for a sixth time.
"I knew it. I’ve known it for a long time. I even predicted it two weeks ago," Perrywinkle said of the trial delay. "I had a nightmare this morning, and I had one yesterday. It’s not a cakewalk. It’s not an easy thing. It’s a nightmare in itself."
Perrywinkle attended many of Smith's court appearances before the delays began.
"I wouldn’t say every time I go it gets easier; it doesn’t. Sometimes I’m numb because it’s surreal. No one should have to go through this," Perrywinkle said. "I was angry. I wasn’t surprised. There’s nothing I can do. I can just keep going there to support Cherish. This is all about Cherish. It’s not about anyone else."
Another issue brought up during Tuesday's hearing was Smith's medical care. Smith has a full body rash and his attorney argued he is not receiving proper medical treatment. Smith testified that he has not seen a doctor in six to seven months. The judge is intervening on Smith's behalf.
Death penalty affecting cases statewide
Smith’s case is one of several in the state that have been delayed while lawyers wait for a ruling from the court on the death penalty.
Another is Cecil King, who was convicted of beating to death 82-year-old Renie Telzer Bain in 2009 and was sentenced to death. A post-conviction motion that the death sentence be commuted to life in prison was denied, and King is now seeking a new trial.
Lysa Telzer, Bain's daughter-in-law, works with the Justice Coalition and has been by Perrywinkle's side throughout the legal process.
"It’s not pleasant. It’s very painful," Telzer said of the delay in King's punishment. "You want to move on with your life, and the only way that you physically and mentally achieve that is to get the trial behind you and move on with your life, and it’s just not happening now."
The state previously required only a 10-2 recommendation by the jury to invoke the death sentence. Now it needs a unanimous 12-0 jury ruling.
At Smith's last hearing in August, a judge ruled that jail recordings between Smith and another inmate could be used in the trial.
Smith’s attorney argued that the 74 hours of conversations were taken without a warrant, but the judge denied the request to block them.
A spokesperson for the State Attorney’s Office released a statement after the Supreme Court ruling last week:
The death penalty is still a viable sentence in the state of Florida. Today’s decision by the Florida Supreme Court will not affect the way we determine whether to seek a death sentence in a case. As always, we will follow the law and in appropriate cases, we will seek the death penalty."