In his own words: Why Donald Smith wants the death penalty

Smith fears he'll be 'raped and murdered' in prison, police report shows

By Garrett Pelican - Digital executive producer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - From almost the moment he was arrested, Donald Smith saw his conviction coming and feared what might follow.

Smith, 61, wants the death penalty, not a life sentence. He told his mother as much when she visited him in jail in July 2013.

He said he couldn’t go to prison because he would be “raped and murdered there,” according to a police report. Death Row, on the other hand, meant his death would be “simple, happy and peaceful.”

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The decision is not Smith’s to make. It will be up to the jurors who found him guilty Wednesday of first-degree murder, kidnapping and sexual battery in the death of 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle.

Smith astonished his defense attorneys with instructions not to cross examine Cherish’s mother, Rayne. His defense stunned observers when they did not call any witnesses and skipped closing arguments.

But while those decisions surprised some courtroom observers, details contained within a Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office informational report indicate that may have been part of Smith’s plan all along.

The report shows Smith waffled over whether to hire a high-powered defense attorney June 27, 2013, less than a week after his arrest. At first, he told police to ask his mother to retain Ann Finnell.

But later the same day, he changed his mind. “Tell my mother don’t call Ann Finnell. They’re going to kill me anyway. There’s no sense in spending the money,” Smith told an officer, according to the report.

(Finnell, who currently represents high-profile murder suspect Ronnie Hyde, is widely known in Jacksonville circles for being one of the best criminal defense attorneys money can buy.)

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Smith made his intentions known to his mother during a July 19, 2013, visitation. He said he needed a book -- Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders -- to find out if he qualified for treatment.

“It’s a one-shot deal,” he told his mother. “I need to know what I have.”

Beyond that, Smith made one thing clear: Death Row was the best outcome. The jury will return to court on Tuesday to decide if they agree.

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