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Dozens cut from jury pool because they 'can't give Donald Smith fair trial'

Smith accused in June 2013 kidnapping, rape, murder of 8-year-old girl

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Two days into jury selection for the trial of a man accused of kidnapping, raping and killing an 8-year-old Jacksonville girl, dozens of potential jurors have been dismissed, many because they said they could not give Donald Smith a fair trial.

It’s an issue the defense has been concerned about for weeks in arguments that the trial should be moved out of Duval County. Smith's attorneys argued the media attention that the murder of Cherish Perrywinkle has received would mean an impartial jury could not be found in Jacksonville.

RELATED: Cherish Perrywinkle: The case that shocked Jacksonville | Donald Smith trial: 5 things to know about the high-profile case

Circuit Judge Mallory Cooper said the court would try to seat a jury here before she would consider moving the trial.

In an emotional second day of jury selection, two people were brought to tears when the defense showed them a photo of Cherish.

Smith, a registered sex offender, was captured on surveillance video leaving a Jacksonville Walmart in June 2013 with Cherish, hours before her half-naked, abused body was found in a creek behind a church, according to prosecutors.

Most of the people cut from the group of 100 potential jurors interviewed Monday and Tuesday said “they could not judge Donald Smith fairly” or that “they remember hearing about the alleged crimes in 2013.”

Smith's defense has added a psychological legal analyst, Dr. Brooke Butler, who will help the defense select potential jurors.

At least 300 potential jurors made up the initial pool, and about 200 more need to be interviewed. The process is taking longer than expected, but the judge wants to complete this phase by Thursday. 

The court wants at least 80 potential jurors that can be narrowed down to 12 jurors and alternates. 

If Smith is convicted of murder, kidnapping and sexual battery, prosecutors are expected to seek the death penalty for him.

A criminologist not affiliated with the case said that, even if Smith is convicted and sentenced to death, it might not deter sexual predators from committing similar crimes.

“Sex offenders often are not concerned about what the penalty will be,” Dr. David Forde said. “They are not looking at what we see as a traditional deterrent. They are more interested in gratifying themselves, and we do see this as mental illness. They are looking to repeat the behavior that they are looking (to) for satisfaction.”

Once a jury is picked, the trial is expected to last three to four days, with another three to four days for the penalty phase. It’s uncertain if the penalty phase will start immediately. In Duval County, there’s usually a one- to two-week gap.

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