The Florida State Attorney released chilling video evidence of the last moments in the life of little Cherish Perrywinkle, who at the age of eight years was kidnapped from a Jacksonville Walmart in 2013. A man identified by the girl’s mother as Donald Smith is accused of the abduction, rape and murder of the little girl. Smith has been charged with the crimes and is awaiting trial next month.

Smith's attorney has filed a motion to bar Florida from seeking the death penalty in his case, in light of a decision by the Supreme Court in January that found Florida’s death penalty sentencing process unconstitutional. He is charged with first degree murder, kidnapping a child, and sexual battery on a child, but has pled not guilty. The State announced shortly after he was indicted that its intends to seek the death penalty. Currently, there are 390 inmates on death row in Florida, while 60 of them originated in Duval County. 
 
Security camera footage shows Cherish, wearing an orange dress, in the company of her mother Rayne and sisters as they enter the Walmart. It was at the store when they were approached by a man who helped them pay for some purchases. It was that man, it is believed, who lured Cherish away from her mother before ravaging the tyke.

Mother Rayne claimed that Smith, who was 56 at the time, approached her while she struggled to purchases necessities for her children. According to Rayne, they first met at a Dollar General store and allegedly offered her assistance. Rayne said that Smith offered to buy food and clothing. They wound up at a WalMart where, Rayne says, he suggested that she purchase “tall women’s shoes” for Cherish. The CCTV footage appears to show a grey-headed man resembling Smith approach the family and begin conversation. When Rayne, who had been talking to Smith, walks away to return an item, he does not appear to look at her but instead gazes firmly at Cherish.

(In the video below, the anguished 911 call made by the mother can be heard)

It was soon thereafter, Rayne said, that Smith offered to buy hamburgers for the family at a McDonald’s at the front of the Walmart. Rayne said that she did not accompany the pair because she "did not want to be overly protective." Cherish went with Smith, but never returned. The video shows Smith and the girl stopping in front of the McDonald’s for less than a minute before leaving the Walmart through the front door. Thereafter, the pair got into a white panel van that then leaves the parking lot. Cherish was not seen alive again.

In addition to the closed-circuit TV footage, the Florida state attorney’s office released the recordings of anguished 911 calls made by Rayne after she realized that her daughter had not returned. On one of the calls, Rayne is heard saying “He wanted her to buy these really tall shoes that were women’s shoes and I told him no. I said, ‘They’re too high for her, I wouldn’t even wear shoes that high.’" She cried, “Maybe he was grooming her. I hope to God he doesn’t kill her and I hope to God he doesn’t rape her.”

Later on, Rayne tells the dispatcher, “I had a strange feeling about him when I first met him.”

After weeks of investigation, the Jackson County Sheriff's Office (JSO) determined that officers first doubted Rayne’s story because of an ongoing custody battle. The media were not notified nor an Amber Alert posted for hours after the girl vanished; six JSO officers were subsequently disciplined.

Cherish's body was found the day after she disappeared. She was found in front of Highlands Baptist Church in Jacksonville.

(Donald Smith)

Smith was arrested when law officers stopped his white van on Interstate 95.  DNA matching the murdered girl was found beneath his fingernails. His mother told law enforcement that her son had a crack cocaine habit, and had helped him purchase narcotics. Less than a month before, he had been released from jail after serving 438 days on felony charges of child abuse and unlawful impersonation of a public employee. He had been convicted in Duval County FL in 1993 for attempted kidnapping and the sale of obscene materials; Smith had been a registered sex offender since then.

Smith was convicted of indecent assault of a child in 1977, according to state records. He again went to prison in 1992 for attempted kidnapping. He was convicted of that crime, and two additional counts of showing obscene material to a minor. 

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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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