(We will carry the Donald Smith Murder Trial Live on the Law&Crime Network. If you would like a raw feed of the trial, click here.)
Opening statements are scheduled today in the murder trial of eight-year-old victim Cherish Perrywinkle. Prosecutors have charged Donald Smith with kidnapping, rape, and murder. Prosecutors plan to use surveillance footage from a Jacksonville, Florida Walmart store which they say shows Smith leading the little girl out of the store on June 21, 2013. Her body was found dead near a church twelve hours later.
Perrywinkle’s mother has said that Smith offered to help buy clothes and food for her struggling family. It turned out Smith was a registered sex offender. He separated Cherish from her family at the store and walked out with her. The girl’s mother called 911 and pleaded for help when she realized Cherish was missing, but police dragged their feet, critics have said. Police initially dealt with the case as a missing persons investigation, not an abduction, due to what appears to be a poor relay of information from a 911 dispatcher. The girl’s mother said Cherish was taken, but the 911 dispatcher told police the girl was missing. It took hours for police to realize what happened. When they did, an AMBER Alert was issued. A tip about the suspect’s white van ultimately led police to the location of Cherish’s body. The girl’s body was found half naked under a fallen tree in a marsh.
Smith’s case is one of many that have been delayed due to changes to Florida’s death penalty procedures. It took a week to narrow a 300-person pool down to twelve final jurors and four alternates. The final group of sixteen includes eight African-American women, four white men, three white women, and one Hispanic woman.
The defense unsuccessfully argued several times to move the trial away from Jacksonville, citing publicity. The judge wanted to try to find a local jury before taking the more drastic step of moving the trial away from Jacksonville. Ultimately, a local jury was seated.