JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – One of the jurors who found Donald Smith guilty of kidnapping, capital sexual battery and first-degree murder in the death of 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle described to News4Jax Monday how the trial changed his life.
Paul Hinson, juror No. 18, talked about how difficult it was to hear testimony, including graphic details from Medical Examiner Valerie Rao, who described Cherish's brutal rape and tortured final moments of life.
"That was pretty much the hardest part of the trial," Hinson said. "Listening to the medical examiner going over each specific detail of her from the time they found the body to doing the autopsy and everything else, and her describing what each mark on her body was -- whether it was before or after she died. And then having the pictures that you had to look at for two hours."
He described Rao's testimony as sad and shocking.
UNCUT: Medical examiner's entire testimony (Caution: Contains graphic details)
"To see an innocent body lying on a steel table and seeing the stuff that she went through and seeing an innocent person laying there, you know, that's tough," Hinson said. "Whether you are a part of this trial or not, to sit there and have to identify a body or to see a body and to see it for two hours ... to see each and part of what she was describing and having to sit there and listen to it."
Smith, 61, was convicted of kidnapping, rape and murder in the 8-year-old's 2013 death after prosecutors spent two days making their case that Smith took Cherish from a Northside Walmart, brutally raped her and choked the life out of her before dumping her half-naked body as if it were garbage.
Hinson said the trial changed his life, describing how certain words will forever trigger memories of Cherish, as well as Smith.
"There are always going to be key words that come to mind, you know, during the trial, and as soon as you see one or hear one, it's going to bring back the trial itself," Hinson said. "A white van or Walmart, going to Walmart and seeing an older person with a younger kid -- you are going to look twice. Is that really their grandfather? Is that really their father? Or is that going to be the next Donald Smith taking somebody out of the door."
Hinson became emotional at the thought of Cherish.
"Taking advantage of an 8-year-old, and to what he did and show no remorse whatsoever," the juror said. "It's just the way he planned it out. He had ample opportunities to leave and he didn't. He kept going and going on."
He went on to talk about Smith's demeanor during the trial.
"(It) was just kind of hard to believe that he would sit there and show no emotion and think that is was all about him during the trial," Hinson said.
Hinson said it was easy for him and the other jurors to find Smith guilty based on the evidence. It only took them 12 minutes to reach a verdict.
But jurors took more time to decide to recommend the death penalty in the case.
Hinson said the defining moment for him came during prosecutor Mark Caliel's final argument, in which he recapped the horrific rape Cherish endured and her gruesome murder.
"When Caliel, in his closing arguments, he said, 'Forget about the rest of the trial. This is about the punishment. This is about the death of Cherish Perrywinkle. It's not about anything else. It's about the killing of Cherish Perrywinkle,'" Hinson said.
Hinson confirmed he remains confident in his decision to recommend the death penalty.
"If this crime didn't deserve the death penalty, then what does?" he said.
He also told News4Jax what he would say if he could say anything to Cherish.
"We listened to evidence that she left behind and we served justice for her," Hinson said. "We spoke for her during this trial."
Some of the jurors still meet up -- sometimes to talk about the trial and sometimes to just talk about life.
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.
Smith will be back in court March 28 for a sentencing hearing, but he will not be sentenced on that day.