A Florida mother took the witness stand on Monday to testify against the man who took advantage of her desperation and allegedly raped and murdered her 8-year-old daughter.
A new report in Time describes the grieving mother's testimony. Rayne Perrywinkle explained to the Duval County Courthouse in Jacksonville, Florida that she had been struggling to find a way to buy school clothes for her three daughters in 2013. She was at a discount store, trying to find some suitable clothes she could afford, when Donald Smith began hovering around her family, she says.
Perrywinkle told the court that when she and her three daughters got outside, 61-year-old Smith was waiting for them. He offered to take them to a nearby Walmart, where he had a gift card he wanted to let them use for clothes. Perrywinkle said that she was apprehensive, but when Smith said that his wife would meet them at the store, she conceded. All four climbed into Smith's white van.
“He looked into my face and told me I was safe,” Perrywinkle said in court.
“Did you want to believe him?” prosecutor Mark Caliel asked.
“Very much so,” Perrywinkle replied.
At the Walmart, Smith walked around shopping with the family, and Perrywinkle said she grew more and more nervous as his wife continued not to show up.
At around 10 p.m., the girls were extremely hungry. Smith said he would go to the McDonald's inside the store and pick up a few cheeseburgers. Perrywinkle's daughter, Cherish, followed him. The 8-year-old was never seen alive again.
Just 20 minutes later, Perrywinkle went to the McDonald's and realized it was closed. She began to panic. She didn't have a working cell phone, and she says she began crying out for help.
“I was yelling ‘Call 911! My daughter’s been taken,’ and no one would help me right away,” she said. It wasn't until 40 minutes after Cherish disappeared that an employee gave Perrywinkle a cell phone to call 9-1-1.
Surveillance footage shows Smith leaving the Walmart, Cherish skipping along behind him.
“No one noticed. It looked like a grandfather and a granddaughter,” said State Attorney Melissa Nelson. She then described how Cherish's body was found in a creek. There was evidence that the child had been sexually assaulted, smothered and hit in the back of the head.
Nelson said that when Smith was arrested, he was wet from the waist down.
Julie Schlax, Smith's defense attorney, told the jury that Perrywinkle had made poor decisions by getting into Smith's van that night. She intended to cross-examine Perrywinkle, but after the grieving mother's testimony, Smith reportedly asked her not to.
Smith has a criminal history dating all the way back to the 1970s. He was deemed a violent sexual predator after an arrest in 1999, and was ordered to get treatment after serving a prison sentence.