Who was Cherish Perrywinkle before Donald Smith cut her life short?
8-year-old murder victim liked dogs, reading, art
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Before her angelic young face became entwined with one of the most heinous crimes in Jacksonville history, Cherish Lilly Perrywinkle lived 3,101 days of relative innocence.
A Christmas Eve baby, Cherish was born in 2004 with brown hair and brown eyes.
By June 2013, when all of Jacksonville first learned her name, Cherish was 8 years old and had grown to be 4 feet, 3 inches tall. She weighed 67 pounds, and her brown hair had grown long and wavy.
She lived in a home not far from a neighborhood park in Northwest Jacksonville with her mother, her mother's boyfriend, and her two younger sisters, who are now living in Australia with an aunt who adopted them.
PHOTOS: Remembering Cherish Perrywinkle
In first grade at Chaffee Trail Elementary School, Cherish was recognized for good citizenship and reading. She was named "Student of the Month" in November 2011.
Not long after she finished the second grade, Cherish was set to spend some of the summer with her father in California.
Her parents had fought bitterly over custody after her mother, Rayne Perrywinkle, won a paternity suit when Cherish was nearly 3 years old.
According to court documents, Cherish's father, Billy Jarreau, said Perrywinkle was a dancer living in a homeless shelter when they met in 2004 and had a one-night stand. After the courts deemed he was Cherish's father, Jarreau, now a retired Navy sailor, seemed to step up to provide support for Cherish.
He fought to be in her life, and as part of the custody agreement, Cherish was supposed to fly out to see him on June 22, 2013 -- the day her body was found discarded in a wooded, marshy area behind a Northside church.
"I woke up about 4:30 in the morning on the 23rd of June 2013, and I went to get ready to pick her up at the airport," Jarreau told News4Jax. "She was supposed to be flying in."
Cherish never made the trip.
The night before she was supposed to fly out, Cherish's family met Donald Smith, the man now convicted of cutting her young life tragically short.
If she'd never met Smith, Cherish would now be 13 years old. Instead, her life ended after 8½ precious years.
A jury decided in 12 minutes Wednesday that Smith was guilty of kidnapping Cherish from a Jacksonville Walmart, brutally raping her and strangling her.
When Cherish's body was found the morning after she disappeared, she still had on the orange fruit-patterned dress she could be seen wearing in Walmart surveillance footage.
Those same surveillance images show an unsuspecting Cherish, wearing a headband in her favorite color, skipping out the door with Smith -- in her final minutes of carefree innocence.
Copyright 2018 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.