Jury recommends death for Donald Smith in Cherish Perrywinkle killing

Smith convicted of raping, strangling 8-year-old Jacksonville girl in 2013

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Convicted child rapist and killer Donald Smith should be executed for his crimes, a jury decided Thursday.

The jurors, who took only 12 minutes last week to find Smith guilty of kidnapping, raping and killing 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle, unanimously agreed to recommend the death penalty in the case.

UNCUT: Judge Cooper reads jury's sentencing recommendation

Cherish's mother, Rayne Perrywinkle, wept in the courtroom as the judge announced the jury's decision.

They came to that decision after two days of testimony and hearing closing arguments from the prosecution and defense. After a review process, Circuit Judge Mallory Cooper will officially pronounce her sentence for Smith, though she is likely to follow the jury's recommendation.

READ: Jury verdict form recommending death for Smith

In his final argument, prosecutor Mark Caliel recapped the horrific rape Cherish endured and her gruesome murder, again showing the jurors graphic autopsy photos that were displayed during last week's trial.

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“The death penalty is appropriate. The death penalty is just. The death penalty is what he deserves for what he did to that little girl,” Caliel said.

The jury agreed, saying the two mitigating factors they found -- Smith's age at the time of the crime and his current relationship with his adult son -- did not outweigh the six aggravating factors in the case:

  • Smith was engaged in kidnapping and sexual battery when he killed Cherish
  • Cherish was younger than 12 years old
  • Cherish was killed so Smith could avoid arrest by eliminating a witness
  • Cherish's murder was cold, calculated and premeditated
  • Cherish's murder was especially heinous, atrocious and cruel 
  • Smith had a prior violent felony conviction

Caliel and State Attorney Melissa Nelson, who helped try the case, both appeared to choke up while talking with reporters after the decision was announced.

“We're happy that we were able to get justice for Cherish,” Caliel said. “It's been a long road, over 4½ years and a long process, but we're very pleased with the outcome today.”

The crime

Smith, 61, took Cherish from a Jacksonville Walmart in June 2013, after he befriended her mother, Rayne Perrywinkle, and offered to buy clothes for Cherish and her sisters.

He brutally raped and tortured her, then wrapped something around her neck and choked the life out of her, making sure he left no witnesses, Caliel said.

UNCUT: Medical examiner's entire testimony (Caution: Contains graphic details) | 
Rayne Perrywinkle's testimony | IMAGES: Testimony, evidence in Donald Smith trial

After he was through with her, Smith stuffed Cherish's lifeless body under a log in a marshy, wooded area behind a neighborhood church, where she was later found by a Jacksonville Sheriff's Office K-9 team.

Smith was arrested the same day Cherish was found in 2013, but repeated delays in the court system, mostly involving the death penalty, stretched for more than four years before the case finally went to trial.


During a three-day sentencing phase that ended Thursday, experts testified that Smith is a psychopath who lacks control over his impulses. Doctors also described Smith as callous, uncaring, manipulative and lacking empathy.

A series of experts testified that Smith's brain is far from normal, and Smith's attorney, Julie Schlax, pointed to that as reason the jury should consider showing mercy.

“Do we execute the mentally ill?” she asked, adding that no matter what the jury decided Smith would never be a free man again. "The only time Mr. Smith will ever leave the custody of the Department of Corrections is in a pine box. The question is: Will that be as the result of a call from a higher power or a call from our governor?”

Smith wiped away tears as she spoke. 

WATCH: Donald Smith cries in court

However, the experts, her arguments and his tears did not dissuade the jury from recommending the ultimate penalty for Smith.

About the Authors:

Veteran journalist and Emmy Award winning anchor

A Jacksonville native and proud University of North Florida alum, Francine Frazier has been with News4Jax since 2014 after spending nine years at The Florida Times-Union.