The penalty phase in the Cherish Perrywinkle murder case began on Tuesday morning. On Valentine’s Day, it took jurors only 14 minutes to find 61-year-old Donald Smith guilty of kidnapping, raping and murdering 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle in 2013. The jury found him guilty on all charges. Now the jury will have to decide whether he lives or dies.
One of his former victims, Carrie Ann Buck, took to the stand Tuesday to give gut-wrenching testimony about how Smith attempted to kidnap her in 1992, when she was just 13.
“I tried to hide in a slide at a playground for what "seemed like forever,” Buck said while crying, adding that Smith approached her in a van, and asked offered her a ride that she tried to turn down because "he was a stranger.”
Smith served several years in jail for that crime.
Also in court on Tuesday, Attorney Charles Fletcher told jurors that Smith is “wired differently than you and me. [...] he's sick.”
After Buck's testimony, the court took a brief recess.
Last week’s trial proved to be an emotional one. Jurors were shown horrifying autopsy photographs of the Cherish Perrywinkle's body, which caused jurors to cringe and look away in disgust. The images were so shocking they made even the medical examiner cry.
Jurors will now decide if he lives or dies.
Smith has been convicted of luring Perrywinkle’s to a Walmart under the false guise of being generous. He claimed he’d buy the girls clothing with a gift card. Later that day, Perrywinkle’s body was found half naked and shoved under a fallen tree in a marshy area near Jacksonville.
Last week, State Attorney Melissa Nelson described the horrible manner in which the child was killed.
“He gagged her, raped her, he sodomized her, then he strangled her. He gagged her with such force, her gums and nostrils bled. He strangled her with such force her eyeballs bled,” Nelson said. “Cherish did not die quickly, and she did not die easily. In fact, hers was a brutal and tortured death."
That same day, the child’s mother gave heartbreaking testimony. She said she believed that Smith’s intentions were genuine.
“He told me I was safe,” she said in court. “He looked into my face and told me I was safe.”
[Photo: Florida Department of Law Enforcement]