TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously upheld the conviction and death sentence of Donald James Smith, who raped and murdered 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinklle after kidnapping the girl from a Jacksonville Walmart in 2013.
The June 2013 murder of Cherish drew huge amounts of news coverage and public attention in Jacksonville, with a jury in 2018 finding Smith guilty and a judge sending him to Death Row.
In the appeal to the Supreme Court, Smith’s attorneys raised a series of issues, including that the trial should have been moved out of Duval County because of the heavy pretrial publicity.
But the Supreme Court flatly rejected the arguments, including finding that the trial judge did not make a “fundamental error” by not changing the venue.
“Smith has advanced no specific allegations of prejudice, and there is no evidence that the media exposure actually tainted Smith’s trial. … For one thing, the evidence of guilt is overwhelming,” the Supreme Court ruling said. “The jury in this case saw Cherish’s autopsy photos, learned that Smith’s DNA was on and in Cherish’s body, watched surveillance footage of Smith leading Cherish to his car, heard witness testimony about his van’s location, and listened to Rayne Perrywinkle’s (Cherish Perrywinkle’s mother) 911 call. A jury anywhere in the state would have given great weight to this evidence.”