Cherish Perrywinkle, age 8, was abducted from a Walmart in Jacksonville, Florida, on June 21, 2013, while shopping with her mother and a stranger who offered to buy them clothes.
Donald James Smith, a 56-year-old career predator, approached Perrywinkle and her mother for the first time in a dollar store. He persuaded them to accompany him to the nearby Walmart, where he would buy the struggling family McDonald’s and new clothes. However, Smith’s true intentions were far more sinister.
Perrywinkle, her mother, and her two sisters went to a Dollar General in their neighborhood on June 21, 2013. There, they were confronted by Donald James Smith, a convicted sexual offender who had been on the public sex offender registry since 1993.
21 days earlier, Smith had been released from prison after serving time for a child abuse conviction.
Smith observed that Rayne Perrywinkle was having difficulty paying for her children’s clothing, and he seized the opportunity. He offered to purchase them clothing at a nearby Walmart with a gift card he and his wife had never used.
His wife will meet them at the store with the card, he assured Rayne Perrywinkle. This was all part of his scheme to gain the family’s trust and kidnap Cherish Perrywinkle.
By 10:00 p.m. on the evening of Cherish Perrywinkle’s abduction, Smith’s alleged wife had not yet arrived, and Rayne Perrywinkle’s children were all starving. In response, Smith offered to pay for everyone’s meal at the nearby McDonald’s while Perrywinkle and the other children waited behind. Smith tragically took Cherish with him, and no one ever saw her alive again.
Rayne Perrywinkle realized around 11:00 p.m. that both Donald James Smith and Cherish Perrywinkle were missing. She utilized a Walmart employee’s cell phone to contact the police and report Cherish’s abduction.
The police issued an Amber Alert for Cherish Perrywinkle six hours after Rayne Perrywinkle’s distressing 911 call. The Amber Alert eventually reached Smith’s roommate, a man identified only as “Charlie,” who contacted the police with any information that could assist them in locating Smith and, more importantly, the missing girl.
The Arrest and Finding the Body
At approximately 9:00 a.m. the next morning, an officer spotted Smith’s van near Interstate 95.
Officers were subsequently able to apprehend Smith near Interstate 10, resulting in his prompt arrest. Simultaneously, an anonymous caller to 911 reported seeing Smith’s van near the Highland Baptist Church in the area.
Behind this church, in the creek, the traumatic truth was discovered by the police. Cherish Perrywinkle’s body was discovered wearing the same dress as the night before. Her mutilated body contained contusions, ant bites, hemorrhaging, and broken blood vessels around her neck, where she had been strangled to death.
Prior to her death, Cherish Perrywinkle was raped, according to the autopsy report. She had also sustained blunt force trauma to the back of her head and appeared to have been strangled with a T-shirt. She began to bleed from her gums, nose, and eyes as a result of the strangulation’s extreme intensity.
Cherish Perrywinkle was charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping, and rape by Donald Smith.
Donald Smith’s trial did not occur until 2018, and it was a traumatic experience for everyone involved. The presentation of evidence was so difficult that the Chief Medical Examiner had to take a break and several members of the jury shed tears.
The pathologist who performed the autopsy described in graphic detail how Smith had raped Perrywinkle with such force that it distorted her anatomy. She also testified that the eight-year-old would have died from strangulation in five minutes. She too asked to be excused from the courtroom for a moment following her testimony.
The state attorney highlighted the brutality of Perrywinkle’s death by stating, “Cherish did not pass away quickly or without difficulty. Her death was in fact brutal and torturous.”
Donald Smith had planned to use an insanity defense during his trial, but it was later revealed that he was attempting to manipulate the legal system. In a recorded phone conversation with his mother, Smith asked for a copy of the “DSM IV,” which is a guide to mental disorders. His intention was to practice acting mentally ill in court, indicating that he was trying to avoid responsibility for his heinous actions.
He was sentenced to death.