The mother of a young girl who was abducted by a man posing as a good Samaritan in 2013 sobbed in court as she faced her daughter’s accused killer.
Rayne Perrywinkle testified in a Jacksonville courtroom on Monday about the day her daughter, 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle, was kidnapped from a Florida Walmart and later found brutally murdered.
Photo: Florida Department of Law Enforcement
The bereaved mother said that she was shopping at Family Dollar store with her three daughters when she noticed Donald James Smith, 61, hovering nearby.
Perrywinkle said that Smith took notice of her struggling to pay for her family’s items, and when she came outside, he offered to take her family to a nearby Walmart and pay for their purchases with a gift card, which he claimed his wife would bring to the store.
“He told me I was safe,” Perrywinkle said in court. “He looked into my face and told me I was safe.”
Perrywinkle and her children all got into Smith’s van and went to a nearby Walmart and began shopping. She says she became worried when Smith’s wife still hadn’t shown up at the store by 10 p.m.
When Perrywinkle’s daughters began complaining of hunger, Smith told Rayne he would buy them cheeseburgers from a McDonald’s inside the Walmart. Cherish went with him to purchase the food and was never again seen alive.
Surveillance footage from the night of the incident shows Smith and Cherish briefly standing outside the McDonalds before leaving the store together and getting into Smith’s van, which then drives out of the parking lot and out of sight.
After realizing the McDonalds was actually closed, Cherish’s panicked mother borrowed a Walmart employee’s cellphone to call 911, about 20 minutes after Smith had walked off with Cherish.
“Why in the world would he take my little girl?” Perrywinkle said to the dispatcher. “I hope to God he doesn’t kill her and I hope to God he doesn’t rape her.”
The next morning, Cherish’s half-naked body was discovered under a fallen tree in a grassy marsh area several miles away from the store where she was abducted. When Smith was arrested, he was allegedly wet from the waist down.
State Attorney Melissa Nelson told the jury on Monday that Cherish had been raped, smothered and had blunt force trauma to the back of her head.
“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.”
Smith was charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping and sexual battery, but has pleaded not guilty. He may face the death penalty if convicted.