JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The mother of 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle was concerned Wednesday morning when Judge Mallory Cooper first sentenced Donald Smith to life in prison for kidnapping and rape. When Cooper announced Smith would be put to death for murder, Rayne Perrywinkle burst into tears.
“It’s overwhelming. I never thought this day would come. Now it’s here and I’m stumped for words. I just wish Cherish was here to see it," Perrywinkle said.
Earlier this year Smith was convicted of kidnapping, raping and killing Cherish, and a jury unanimously recommended he be sentenced to death.
After reviewing the recommendation, it took only moments for Cooper to announced Smith's sentence.
After gathering her thoughts outside the courtroom, Perrywinkle said she was going on a mission to protect children from people like Smith.
“It will never be over, but this is my fight now, for children," she said. “I want to strengthen laws to keep predators locked up where they should be, so they don’t have the chance to keep getting out to murder children, to lure parents such as myself.”
Donald Smith were released from a previous prison sentence for sex crimes just 21 days before he kidnaped Cherish.
“The police knew who he was. We as a community did not know who he was," Perrywinkle said.
She believes Cherrish’s death made parents more protective of their own children. Michael Liles of the Justice Coalition agrees.
Liles also agrees that laws on release of criminal defendants with what he believes are incurable tenancies should change.
"I think legislatively, we have to deal with that with the things that society can tolerate," Liles said. "Frankly, this is the kind of thing we can’t."
The jury that heard the case against Smith in February took only minutes to convict him, then voted 12-0 to recommend the death penalty. But the final decision was in the hands of Cooper, who stayed on to see the case through, despite her retirement in December 2015.