JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The pool of potential jurors who will decide Donald Smith's fate has been narrowed to 80, despite difficulties finding people who had not already made up their minds about the accused child killer.
Smith is accused of kidnapping 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle in June 2013, brutally raping her and dumping her half-naked body in a creek behind a Jacksonville church.
The charges have prompted emotional responses from some in the jury pool, which started with hundreds of people Monday. Ninety of those potential jurors were removed for cause.
One potential juror on Wednesday said that he already believed Smith was guilty and that “he should be killed. I wish someone would shank him in prison.”
Initially, that juror was moved on to the next round, despite the comments, but was then brought back for more questioning by both sides.
The juror admitted that he could not give Smith a fair trial, adding “this man has wasted a lot of people's time” and that he would only choose death for Smith.
He was dropped from the jury pool.
Another man told the court that he'd watched the case from the beginning and believed Smith was guilty. When a prosecutor pointed out that Smith has a right to a fair trial, the man said, “I can be fair.” He was not moved on to the next round.
Neither was a man who said he didn't know the details of the case but that he would hurt someone who hurts children.
The defense has been concerned for some time that an impartial jury of 12 members, plus alternates, can't be found in Duval County, where media coverage of the shocking crime has been extensive.
Circuit Judge Mallory Cooper said the court would try to seat a jury here before she would consider moving the trial.
If Smith is convicted of murder, kidnapping and sexual battery, prosecutors are expected to seek the death penalty for him.
That fact has played a role for some jurors who cited their religious beliefs that are opposed to the death penalty. One woman, who was dismissed from the jury pool, said during her interview, “God gives life, only God can take a life.”
Gene Nichols, an attorney not affiliated with the case, said religion can play a critical role in jury selection and a trial.
"Many people bring faith into a courtroom, but when it is all said and done, you need to follow the law," Nichols said. "Does your faith preclude you from following the law? If their faith precludes them, then that’s when the judge is going to have to keep them off the jury."
The 80 potential jurors will return to court at 9:30 a.m. Thursday to begin the third and final interview of more personal questions that will help select the final panel and alternates.
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.