Donald Smith jurors told trial will be 'emotional, gut-wrenching'

Panel of 12 jurors, 4 alternates to hear kidnapping, rape, murder trial

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A panel of 12 jurors and four alternates was seated Friday to hear the first-degree murder trial of Donald Smith. 

The panel of eight black women, one Hispanic woman, four white men and three white women were told they would see and hear explicit evidence in the death of Cherish Periwinkle, who was abducted, raped and murdered in June 2013.

Smith sat in court, listening intently as his defense team questioned 77 potential jurors remaining in the pool for the jury on the fifth day of jury selection. Defense attorney Julie Schlax. showed the potential jurors a picture of Cherish.

"I imagine from the time you sat in the chairs on Monday and realized we were going to be talking about an 8-year-old child that no longer walks this earth, that’s emotional, gut wrenching," Schlax told them.

Both prosecutors and defense attorneys emphasized to the jury candidates that Smith is considered innocent until proven guilty.

"We want you to be as certain as possible that you come into this courtroom with an open mind that you can be fair to the state of Florida and to Donald Smith," Assistant State Attorney Mark Caliel said. 

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The defense had expressed concern 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. But on the fifth afternoon of the process, a jury was seated.

In addition to the trial, if Smith is convicted, the jurors will also hear the penalty phase to determine if he should be sentenced to death. All of the potential jurors remaining in the pool Friday had said they would be able to sentence him to death if they though it was appropriate.

Smith told Circuit Judge Mallory Cooper that he was satisfied with the jurors selected to decide his fate. Opening statements will begin Monday morning. Cherish's mother, Rayne Perrywinkle, is the first name on the prosecution's witness list, but it is not known if she will be the first to testify.

News4Jax will not only cover every moment of the trial, we will live stream the proceedings online, with the disclaimer that the some graphic testimony and evidence will be presented during the trial.

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.

If Smith is convicted of murder, kidnapping and sexual battery, prosecutors are expected to seek the death penalty for him. Due to a change in Florida's law, there must be a unanimous jury recommendation for someone to be sentenced to death.