On Thursday, after about two hours of deliberations, a Florida jury came to their decision: 61-year-old Donald Smith deserves to be put to death.
Earlier in the day, prosecutor Mark Caliel reminded jurors of the first photograph they were shown of Perrywinkle. Then, he followed that up with contrasting with photos of her dead body. Several of the jurors reacted emotionally, some even wiping away tears. The images are so shocking they made even the medical examiner cry during last week’s trial.
Defense attorney Julie Schlax told the jurors during her closing arguments that they had "the greatest power in your hands you'll ever have" adding that this is "one of the most critical decisions you will make in your life.”
She told the jurors that they “endured very difficult, gut-wrenching testimony."
On Valentine’s Day, it took jurors only 14 minutes to find Smith guilty of kidnapping, raping and murdering 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle in 2013.
However, Schlax urged the jurors to have mercy on Smith and to spare him the death penalty.
"Do we execute the mentally ill?" she asked. As Schlax talked about the “torment” that Smith has inside him, Smith shed a tear.
During the penalty phase of this emotional trial, a psychologist who evaluated the child-killer called him one of the most dangerous sex offenders she has ever evaluated, adding that doctors over the years described him as uncaring, manipulative and callous. On Wednesday, Dr. Joseph Wu claimed that Smith suffered mulitiple traumatic brain injuries which impacted his behavior. Wu said that the characteristics of Smith’s brain, post-injuries, show a tendency to become fixated on something. That something, Wu explained, could include pedophilia.
Last week, State Attorney Melissa Nelson described the horrible manner in which the Perrywinkle died. She said, “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. Cherish did not die quickly, and she did not die easily. In fact, hers was a brutal and tortured death."
Smith manipulated the girl’s mother into making her think he only wanted to buy clothing for Cherish Perrywinkle and her siblings. Instead, he abducted her from the Walmart they went to and the next morning, Perrywinkle’s body was found half-naked and shoved under a fallen tree in a marshy area near Jacksonville.
[Photo: Florida Department of Law Enforcement]