JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The mother of a murdered Jacksonville 8-year-old told the court Wednesday that the pain of losing her child will never leave her.
Cherish Perrywinkle was raped and strangled in June 2013 by Donald Smith, the man who took her from a Northside Walmart after befriending the girl's mother, Rayne Perrywinkle.
The final decision on that sentence lies with Circuit Judge Mallory Cooper, who listened Wednesday as Cherish's mother and father shared about the impact the girl's murder has had on their lives.
An emotional Perrywinkle explained that after losing Cherish she also lost custody of her two younger daughters and lost her home.
“More than anything else, I lost Cherish,” she said, turning angrily toward Smith, “in the most violent way possible.”
Perrywinkle previously told News4Jax that she wants Cooper to sentence the 61-year-old to death for stealing the innocence and life of her daughter.
“I will never get to see her grow up. I will never see her get married and enjoy life. He has taken that from me, and it can never be returned,” Perrywinkle said, fighting through tears. "I have so much rage inside of me because of what he did. I have never felt this much hatred in my life.”
Assistant State Attorney Mark Caliel stood by Perrywinkle's side, holding her hand and softly patting her back as he whispered words of encouragement throughout her testimony, which was halted frequently by sobs and deep, shaky breaths.
Perrywinkle said she misses simple things like watching Cherish play with her sisters, brushing her hair and waiting for her to get home from school.
She said that because Cherish was born on Christmas Eve, the holiday season no longer holds any joy for her.
“When other people are celebrating Christmas Eve, to them it is Christmas Eve, but in my mind it will always be Cherish's birthday,” Perrywinkle said. “Since she was taken from me, we have never been able to spend the holidays together as a family, and I never will again.”
She said she sees reminders of Cherish every day and that there is no cure for her emotional pain.
“It has been four years and nine months,” she said, “but for me it will always feel like yesterday.”
Her statement Wednesday was the first time Perrywinkle had addressed the court since she testified last month as the state's first witness in Smith's trial.
Perrywinkle glared at Smith that day before tearfully recounting the night she met him. She said that after seeing her struggle to afford clothes for her children at a Dollar General, Smith introduced himself in the parking lot.
Perrywinkle said he was charismatic and offered to help her with a Walmart gift card, saying his wife had it and would meet them at the store.
Perrywinkle later told News4Jax that she regrets getting into Smith's van to go to the Walmart because in hindsight she knows her child was being hunted by a pedophile.
“It was a process,” she told News4Jax reporter Vic Micolucci. “I didn’t walk up to him and ask him for money or food or anything. He approached us.”
Smith allowed them to shop until the store was almost ready to close and then offered to get cheeseburgers. Cherish went with him to the front of the Walmart, but instead of getting food at the McDonald's at the front of the store, Smith walked out with Cherish skipping after him.
The scene was caught on surveillance video -- the last moments anyone but Smith saw Cherish alive.
What happened after that was described in gruesome detail by the Medical Examiner and other experts as Perrywinkle listened in a nearby room in the courthouse. She said the torture and terror her daughter endured was worse than she could have ever imagined.
UNCUT: Medical examiner's entire testimony (Caution: Contains graphic details) |
RELATED: Juror will never forget what Cherish Perrywinkle 'had to endure'
“It tore me apart. I was screaming. I was on the floor, screaming,” Perrywinkle said. “He needs to be put to death.”
The jury that took only minutes to convict Smith agreed, voting 12-0 to recommend the death penalty. But the final decision is in the hands of Cooper, who stayed on to see the case through, despite her retirement in December 2015.
A judge going against the jury's wishes would be highly unusual, so it's likely Perrywinkle will get what she wants: the knowledge that the state will take the life of the man who took her daughter's.