Donald Smith has been sentenced to die for killing the 8-year-old Florida girl in 2013

By Steve Helling
February 22, 2018 04:04 PM
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A Florida man who was convicted of kidnapping, raping and killing 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle has been sentenced to death for first degree murder and sexual battery convictions.

As jurors deliberated, they determined the crime of Donald James Smith, 61, had all six components necessary for the death penalty. They agreed that the murder was “heinous, atrocious, or cruel.”

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, Cherish’s half-naked body — still wearing the same orange dress she wore to Walmart – 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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The trial had been difficult for the jurors, who wiped their eyes, covered their mouths and looked away from the grisly crime scene photos, according to Jacksonville.com.

Medical Examiner Valerie Rao testified that Cherish had sustained severe injuries from being strangled, tortured and raped. As she looked at photos of Cherish’s battered body, Dr. Rao began to cry and asked to take a break.

Rao’s testimony came one day after State Attorney Melissa Nelson gave a devastating opening statement. “Cherish did not die quickly, and she did not die easily,” she told jurors. “In fact, hers was a brutal and tortured death.”

The defense unsuccessfully tried to suppress several graphic photos of the girl’s injuries.

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 is 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.

Smith’s attorney, Julie Schlax, urged jurors to focus on the law rather than emotion. She has not returned PEOPLE’s call for comment.

Smith will be remanded to jail while his case goes on automatic appeal.