JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The father of a girl who was a sex crime victim of Donald Smith more than three years before he raped and murdered 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle said he'll never feel easy knowing what could have happened to his daughter.
Smith was arrested in September 2009 on felony charges for trying to get access to a child by posing as a Department of Children and Families employee.
Roland Thornton said that child was his then 8-year-old daughter, and Smith wanted to meet her at a McDonald's in Callahan. The girl's mother told News4Jax in 2013 that Smith claimed he needed to interview the girl because he was investigating allegations she had been abused by relatives.
According to a police report from the 2009 incident, Smith spoke to the girl on the phone and asked her inappropriate questions, like “What are you wearing?” Smith also indicated the girl would need a “medical exam” to confirm if she was abused, police said.
Her mother said the girl's grandmother took her to the McDonald's to meet Smith because he threatened arrests if the family didn't cooperate with the “investigation.”
He never met them, and the family later learned the investigation was a ruse.
Smith was initially charged with impersonating a public employee, child abuse, making threats and obscene phone calls in the case. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges in 2012 because the family didn't want to put the little girl through the trauma of a trial.
Smith served 438 days in the Duval County jail and was released May 31, 2013. Three weeks later, Cherish was dead.
Smith was convicted Wednesday of kidnapping, rape and first-degree murder in Cherish's death.
Thornton said he is still bothered, knowing what happened to Cherish, who was the same age his own daughter was when Smith called their house.
“We try to put it behind us, you know? But I’m glad today we got a little bit of closure. It’s not totally closed,” Thornton said. “Justice isn’t done until he’s done.”
He said the verdict was a long time coming.
“Why so long? You know? You can’t bring back time. But it seems like this time pushes you. It either breaks you or pushes you,” Thornton said.
Thornton said he will likely be following the case very closely next week during the penalty phase for Smith, knowing that a lot is riding on the jury’s decision.
“I hope he gets what he deserves. I would push for the death penalty,” Thornton said. “That man doesn’t deserve to live. We don’t need to be feeding people like this.”
Cherish's parents agree. Both said they want Smith to be put to death.