State urged to keep Donald Smith behind bars decade before Cherish was killed

News4Jax obtains evidence prosecutors used to put sex predator on death row

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Evidence used to prosecute the killer of Cherish Perrywinkle includes Donald Smith's chilling jailhouse confessions and a psychologist's recommendation that Smith should never be released from prison. The state was given that advice before Cherish was even born.

Smith, a sexual predator, had only been out of prison only three weeks from a previous sex crime conviction when he encountered Cherish and her family in a Westside Dollar General store. Less than 12 hours later, Cherish’s battered body was found behind a Northwest Jacksonville church.

In 2002, psychologist James Vallely, who had Smith in psychosexual treatment, wrote that he is "a clear and present danger to children and the community." He also recommended Smith not have any contact with his own children, and when not in prison, be kept in civil confinement.

"I have no investment in Mr. Smith continuing therapy in my treatment program, but I am highly invested in protecting the community, its children, and even Mr. Smith," Vallely wrote.

DOCUMENT: Read Dr. Vallely's full letter to State Attorney's Office

Within minutes of recovering Cherish's body in June 22, 2013, police spotted Smith’s van on Interstate 95 and took him into custody.

From jail later, Smith told a visitor News4Jax believes was his mother that he considered getting out of his van that morning and pretend he had a gun, hoping they would kill him.

"I didn't do suicide-by-cop that morning. I had to see you one more time to tell you what happened," he told the visitor. "I'm sorry. I don't know how this happened. I really, really don't. I don't know."

As for what happened to Cherish, who was sexually and physically assaulted for hours before she was choked to death, “All I know is that I snapped.” 

“At that point, I was so psychotic, I was extremely violent. She had to go. I don't care, she had to go."

The disturbing details continued.

"I'm in the driver's seat of my van and my breathing is rapid, rapid. I'm watching the sun come up," Smith told her. "I look back seat  (and) she's dead. Dead."

In the next breath, he also told the visitor, “I'm not a violent person.”

Realizing the consequences of his actions, he blamed the woman he had just confessed to.

“They're going to kill me. It's your fault I'm going to die. I was raging," Smith said.

Smith, who had been in and out of prison since he was 21, said he was more afraid of going back to jail than dying.

"I can't go to prison," Smith said. "They are going to stab me to death ... rape me. It's easier -- death row or the hospital. There is no prison. I don't want prison. I'd rather go to death row because I'm going to die anyway. Prison is going to kill me."

At one point, between his confessions and sharing his fears of being sent back to prison, he asked his visitor to send him some pornography.

Cherish's mother, Rayne Perrywinkle, said Thursday that she was livid when she learned the jailhouse calls were made public and is still haunted by the decisions the state made that led to Smith's release from prison. 

She clings to her belief that if the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office had responded faster when she reported Cherish had been kidnapped, her daughter might still be alive.

About the Author:

Lynnsey Gardner is an Edward R. Murrow award-winning investigative reporter and fill-in anchor for The Local Station.