JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Before Donald Smith has a sentencing hearing next week, News4Jax on Wednesday spoke with one of the jurors who found him guilty of kidnapping, sexual battery and first-degree murder in the death of 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle.
Janie Klasel, juror No. 62, talked about how the trial changed her life, saying she will never forget the little girl and will always remember the gruesome details.
Jenese Harris: "What will you always remember about this trial?"
Janie Klasel: "I have never been in a trial like that. So, I have grandkids. When I heard about this story, it just touched home. But we went through a lot, going this long, with the jury."
Smith, 61, was convicted of kidnapping and strangling the 8-year-old in June 2013 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.
Harris: "Is there something that sticks out when you think about the trial?"
Klasel: "About that little girl -- what she suffered and had to endure."
She explained why it only took her and the other jurors 12 minutes to find Smith guilty.
Harris: "Do you believe you were able to come together collectively and get justice for Cherish?"
Klasel: "Yes, I feel that we did."
Klasel: "On the guilt phase, that was easy. We had all the evidence in front of us."
The jury also agreed 12-0 to recommend Smith be sentenced to death. If the recommendation had not been unanimous, Smith would been sentenced to life in prison.
Harris: "When you decided the death penalty, why were you all crying? Why did it make you all so emotional?"
Klasel: "Because neither one of us wanted to put anybody to death."
Klasel: "I had wanted to have just life in prison with no parole because I wanted him to endure some of that pain himself in there. I know there were three of us that wanted just the life."
Earlier this month, Smith's attorneys filed a motion for new trial, saying the guilty verdict was “contrary to the weight of the evidence.” Klasel, a mother of three, said she was upset his lawyers want a new trial.
Klasel: "I was angry."
Klasel: "Because with all the evidence that we had. It was there, what he did to that little girl. So I'm thinking, 'Why are they trying to fight this? He did what he did and he knows he did it.' So I don't have any sympathy for that man."
Though the trial has been over for weeks, Klasel said that the evidence still haunts her.
Klasel: "Just having that memory of him walking out with that little girl, and her skipping. You know, that just, I don't know, that just really tore me up there."
Klasel: "I still have a hard time sleeping at night only because the photos come to mind of what I saw. And then, I guess, it will always be there. I try to be careful with what I watch on TV now. I don't try to watch any about abductions or anything like that, so I try to stay away from that."
Though Klasel said she was one of three jurors that, for a moment, did not want Smith to get the death penalty, she now feels differently.
Harris: "If there was anything you could say to Donald Smith, is there anything you would say to him?"
Klasel: "Yeah. I don't want him to live."
Harris: "If there was anything you could say to Cherish?"
Klasel: "Justice was served. She is a little angel now."
Klasel said she and the other jurors are now bonded like family and they keep in touch. She also said they're planning to meet in April.
Smith will be back in court March 28 for a sentencing hearing, but he will not be sentenced on that day. The hearing is just the start of the Spencer hearing process.
The Spencer hearing, which takes its name from the 1993 case of Spencer v. Florida, is held so the defendant has a chance to have his voice heard when faced with a potential death sentence. It allows both sides to present additional evidence that did not come up at trial.
It could be weeks or months before Circuit Judge Mallory Cooper officially pronounces her sentence for Smith.