Autopsy photos of Cherish Perrywinkle will be shown to jury

Donald Smith accused of raping, strangling 8-year-old Jacksonville girl

By Jenese Harris - Reporter/anchor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Photos taken as the Medical Examiner worked to learn how an 8-year-old Jacksonville girl spent the final moments of her life will be shown to the jury during the trial of the man accused of kidnapping, raping and killing her, a Duval County judge decided Thursday. 

Donald Smith's trial in the murder of Cherish Perrywinkle is set to begin Monday.

Photos and surveillance video showing Smith walking out of a Walmart on Lem Turner Road with Cherish will also be allowed to be shown as evidence, Judge Mallory Cooper ruled.

Smith's attorneys had argued that the autopsy pictures are too shocking and unnecessary, adding that they would make it difficult for Smith to have a fair trial because they would inflame the jury's emotions.

Chief medical examiner Dr. Valerie Rao testified that the photos would help the jury understand what Cherish experienced, which included blunt impact to her head that caused hemorrhaging and “tremendous injury" and bruising to her private area.

She did not deny the defense team's argument that the autopsy photos were shocking, but said that is true because what Cherish experienced was shocking.

Potential jurors will come in groups of 100 at a time Monday and will fill out a questionnaire with a mix of state and defense questions. Cooper said she expects about 300 jurors to fill out the questionnaire by the end of Monday.

Smith's defense team continues to ask for a change of venue, citing the pre-trial media coverage in the case, but Cooper said the court must try to find a jury in Duval County before that will be considered.

8-year-old's murder

Smith, 61, is charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping and capital sexual battery on a child under the age of 12.

Donald Smith enters Thursday's final pre-trial hearing before jury selection begins Monday in his trial on charges of kidnapping, rape and murder.

He faces life in prison or the death penalty if convicted of the murder charge.

Smith, a registered sex offender, was released from jail only 21 days before his arrest June 22, 2013, 10 hours after Cherish was abducted.

Smith is accused of befriending Cherish's mother, Rayne Perrywinkle, at a Dollar General store the night before his arrest and, with promises to buy Perrywinkle and her children food and clothes, persuading the family to go with him to a Walmart on Lem Turner Road.

After spending a couple of hours inside the Walmart together, Smith offered to buy hamburgers and walked with Cherish to the McDonald's at the front of the store, police said. Instead of stopping to buy food, police said, Smith walked Cherish outside and the two of them got into his van.

Surveillance video shows Smith walking out of the Walmart with Cherish.

Rayne Perrywinkle grew suspicious when the pair did not return and dialed 911. Police later issued an Amber Alert for the 8-year-old girl that came to an end when the child's body was discovered near a tidal creek of the Trout River off Broward Road.

Around the same time, an officer working the scene of a traffic crash on Interstate 95 recognized Smith's van and called it in. Police took Smith into custody after they cornered him near where I-95 meets I-10.

Smith's trial was repeatedly put on hold due to the controversy over Florida's death penalty procedure, which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down in 2016. Last March, the Florida Legislature passed a new law requiring a unanimous recommendation from a jury before a judge could hand down the death penalty.

Copyright 2018 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.