The mother of an 8-year-old girl who was abducted from a Florida Walmart — and later allegedly raped and killed by a man claiming was trying to help her family — broke down on the stand as his trial got under way on Monday.
Struggling through tears, Rayne Perrywinkle sat facing 61-year-old defendant Donald Smith in a Jacksonville courtroom, and testified about the day her daughter, Cherish Perrywinkle, disappeared.
State Attorney Melissa Nelson said Cherish’s mutilated body was found in a creek. She’d been raped, smothered and had blunt force trauma to the back of her head. She was wearing an orange dress with a fruit pattern on it.
“Cherish did not die quickly, and she did not die easily. In fact, hers was a brutal and tortured death,” Nelson told the court, WOKV reported.
Smith is charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping and rape. If convicted, he faces a possible death sentence.
Before his arrest for Cherish’s death, Smith had a long criminal history dating back to the 1970s related to lewd and lascivious conduct. Doctors determined that he met the criteria of a violent sexual predator after arrests in 1999, and he had served prison time and been ordered to get treatment, according to the Florida Times-Union newspaper.
In 2009 he posed as a child welfare worker and asked a child sexually explicit questions on the telephone and was arrested on felony charges, which were later reduced to misdemeanors, the newspaper reported.
Rayne Perrywinkle said Smith had been hovering around she and her three daughters while they shopped at a discount store earlier in the day on June 21, 2013. She was looking for clothes for all three children and could not afford it.
Smith watched as Rayne tried to work out how to pay for the clothes, Rayne testified, and said when she came outside he was waiting. He offered to take them to a nearby Walmart and make purchases with a gift card.
The mother testified that she was wary, but accepted because Smith assured her his wife would meet them at the Walmart.
“He looked into my face and told me I was safe,” Rayne Perrywinkle said.
“Did you want to believe him?” prosecutor Mark Caliel asked.
“Very much so,” Rayne replied.
The mother and her three daughters piled into Smith’s white van. They went to a nearby Walmart and she began shopping with her girls, placing three small piles of clothing in a shopping cart.
It got late, after 10 p.m., and Smith’s wife never appeared. Rayne said her daughters were getting restless because they had not had dinner.
Smith told Rayne he would go to a McDonald’s inside the store and get them cheeseburgers. Cherish followed him and was never seen alive again.
Rayne Perrywinkle said some 20 minutes later, she realized the McDonald’s inside the Walmart was closed and she began to panic. Her cellphone didn’t work — a daughter had dunked it in water to try and clean it — so she cried out for help realizing her daughter had been taken.
“I was yelling ‘Call 911! My daughter’s been taken,’ and no one would help me right away,” she said.
About 40 minutes after her daughter disappeared, an employee gave her a cellphone and she called 911, prosecutors said.
Surveillance footage from the store caught the image of Smith and Cherish exiting, the girl skipping out behind him.
“No one noticed. It looked like a grandfather and a granddaughter,” Nelson told the jury during her opening statement.
When Smith was arrested, Nelson said he was wet from the waist down.
Smith’s defense attorney, Julie Schlax, suggested to the jury that Rayne Perrywinkle made poor decisions getting into the van.
She said she would cross-examine Rayne, but after the mother’s testimony Smith told his attorneys not to cross examine her, so they told the court they had changed their mind.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.