Psychologist: Donald Smith blamed 8-year-old for 'having to kill her'

Smith convicted of kidnapping, killing Cherish Perrywinkle in June 2013

By Francine Frazier - Senior web editor, Jenese Harris - Reporter/anchor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A clinical psychologist called by Donald Smith's defense team to testify during the penalty phase of his murder trial said Smith is "one of the most dangerous sex offenders" she has ever evaluated.

Smith, 61, was back in Duval County court Tuesday, along with the jury that took only 12 minutes to confirm that Smith kidnapped, raped and murdered 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle in June 2013.

That jury is tasked with deciding whether to recommend life in prison or the death penalty for Smith, who took Cherish from a Jacksonville Walmart, brutally raped her, strangled her and dumped her body in a creek behind a church.

His defense attorneys are asking the jurors to show Smith mercy because he is "sick."

"You can choose to show mercy," attorney Charles Fletcher said. "And sometimes mercy is given to someone who does not deserve it."

Dr. Heather Holmes, a clinical and forensic psychologist, testified for the defense Tuesday afternoon that Smith never denied his crimes against Cherish when she interviewed him.

GAVEL-TO-GAVEL: Live video and discussion from Courtroom 406
RELATED: 4 things beyond a verdict we learned in Donald Smith trial | Who was Cherish before Donald Smith cut her life short?

"He admitted them all," Holmes said.

But he also blamed Cherish for having to kill her, Holmes said.

She said Smith told her that Cherish followed him and climbed into his van, and he thought, "I'm a convicted sex offender. How am I going to explain this?"

Holmes testified that Smith has a history of blaming others for his crimes, and that he had an almost inappropriately close relationship with his mother.

Holmes said when Smith committed crimes, his mother enabled him, even to the point of paying off debts Smith owed to drug dealers.

An attorney testified for the defense about Smith's previous convictions on sexual offenses, saying he "fell through the cracks" of the criminal justice system.

Smith's defense team argues that his mental health has been impaired for decades and should be considered by the jurors as they decide whether to recommend death.

Dr. Geoff Colino, a forensic neurologist, went over a series of MRI and other test results for Smith, explaining to the jury that the 61-year-old has areas of abnormality throughout his brain that could affect his impulse control, memory, inhibitions and ability to learn from negative experiences -- like being sent to jail for sex crimes.

Colino said based on his analysis of Smith's brain, Smith could not control his actions.

He testified that Smith told him that crack cocaine turned him "into a monster."

State Attorney Melissa Nelson challenged several points Colino made during her cross-examination, saying that his testimony was not consistent with his deposition that he gave before the trial.

Another doctor testified that without drug use, Smith is a very intelligent man who can be deceptive and manipulative.

Previous victim testifies

Prosecutors called only one witness in their efforts to convince the jury that Smith should be sentenced to death.

That witness was a woman who escaped Smith's grasp 25 years ago.

Kerri-Anne Buck, 37, took the stand and tearfully testified that Smith tried to kidnap her in Jacksonville in 1992, when she was 13 years old.

The trauma of it, she said, has remained with her throughout her life and now influences the way she raises her own children.

UNCUT: Kerri-Anne Buck describes day Donald Smith tried to kidnap her 
(WARNING: Contains explicit language)

Smith eventually was sentenced to six years for the attempted kidnapping.

Prosecutors cited that prior conviction as one of six aggravating factors that prove Smith's crimes against Cherish warrant the death penalty. Nelson said they only need to prove one for the jury to recommend Smith be put to death.

Among the other aggravating factors are the heinous, atrocious and cruel nature of the crime and the cold, calculated and premeditated nature of the murder, Nelson said.

She said the graphic evidence presented last week by the medical examiner supports both of those factors.

The jury will hear another day of testimony before deciding whether to recommend Smith be executed. 

Death penalty

Cherish's mother and father have each said they want Smith sentenced to death in their daughter's murder.

For that to happen, the 12 jurors who convicted Smith after hearing two days of graphic, emotional testimony will have to unanimously recommend that the state execute Smith.

Smith was arrested the day after he abducted Cherish from a Jacksonville Walmart. He was indicted in July 2013 on charges of kidnapping, rape and first-degree murder, but his trial was delayed for years as the courts and the Florida Legislature battled over the state's death penalty law. 

The law was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, and after a failed attempt to rewrite the law, the Legislature finally settled last year on requiring a unanimous jury recommendation before someone can be sentenced to death.

Smith, who not long after his arrest said he thought Death Row would be a “simple, happy and peaceful” end, put up little fight during the trial. He instructed his attorney not to question Cherish's mother, Rayne Perrywinkle, after she testified for the prosecution. He also declined to testify himself and opted out of having his attorneys deliver a closing argument on his behalf.

UNCUT: Rayne Perrywinkle's testimony | Prosecutor Mark Caliel's closing arguments 

The prosecution, on the other hand, delivered an impassioned closing, recounting the horrific details the jurors had heard and saying the testimony and evidence could lead to only one conclusion.

“From the grave, she's crying out to you: 'Donald Smith raped me. ... Donald Smith strangled me until every last breath left my body,'” prosecutor Mark Caliel said. “Now, it's time to hold him accountable for what he did.”

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