Steve Helling
February 07, 2018 07:09 AM

 

A Florida man is facing trial, accused of abducting, raping, torturing and killing 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle in 2013.

Donald James Smith, 61, faces charges of first-degree murder, kidnapping and sexual battery. If convicted, he faces the death penalty.

Jury selection for the trial – which is expected to begin Feb. 12 – began Monday with hundreds asked to fill in a juror questionnaire in a bid to find impartial jurors as the little girl’s sparked so much emotional and garnered so much attention at the time if her death.

According to a police report obtained by PEOPLE, Smith allegedly lured Cherish’s family to a Jacksonville-area Walmart in June 2013, promising to buy them food and clothing.

Cherish’s mother, Rayne Perrywinkle, initially declined to go with Smith, but he allegedly said that his wife had a $100 Walmart card and they would meet her at the store. Rayne Perrywinkle told police that she told him, “I don’t usually go with strangers, but if your wife is coming, then it’s OK.”

Perrywinkle was unaware that Smith was not married and that he was on the Florida sex offender registry. He had been released from prison just 21 days earlier.

At some point on that trip, the girl vanished. Surveillance video showed Smith and Cherish leaving together. Her mother called 911. “I hope to God he doesn’t kill her and I hope to God he doesn’t rape her,” Perrywinkle told the dispatcher.

The next morning, the Cherish’s half-naked body – still wearing the same dress orange dress she wore to Wal-Mart – was found under a fallen tree in a grassy marsh area several miles away.

Donald James Smith pictured 2013.
Will Dickey/The Florida Times-Union/AP

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In pretrial testimony, Medical Examiner Valerie Rao said that Cherish had suffered “extremely shocking” injuries.

The defense has tried to suppress several graphic photos of the girl’s injuries, but the judge has ruled that the jury will be able to see them. The jury is currently being selected.

The jury will not hear testimony about Smith’s prior convictions.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement

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According to records obtained by PEOPLE, Smith has a long criminal history. In 1977, he was convicted of lewd and lascivious behavior on a child under 16. In 1993, he was sentenced to five years in prison for the attempted kidnapping of a minor. He registered as a sex offender.

Last year he pleaded guilty to attempted impersonation of a public employee and attempted child abuse by mental harm.  He spent a year in jail and was released just three weeks before Cherish was found dead.

Defense attorneys have not offered an explanation for the events of July 2013. They have tried multiple times to have the trial moved, arguing that it will be impossible for Smith to get a fair trial in the Jacksonville area.

The trial is expected to last more than a week.

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