Documents: How Cherish's body was found, how she died

By Hailey Winslow, General assignment reporter, hwinslow@wjxt.com
Published On: Dec 24 2013 01:33:14 PM EST
Updated On: Oct 29 2013 12:01:14 PM EDT

Prosecutors released nearly 200 pages of documents and 800 photos that shed new light on the kidnapping, rape, and killing of 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

Investigative documents and evidence photos released in kidnapping, sexual battery and murder of Cherish Perrywinkle contain nauseating details of the June day her body was found and Donald Smith was arrested.

The state attorney's office on Monday released 193 pages of documents and 771 photos entered into discovery in the case.

Channel 4 obtained pages of documents Monday on the background of Donald Smith, the man accused of killing Cherish this past summer. The amount of information released from prosecutors stretches back decades.

The State Attorney’s Office released arrest reports on Smith, some of them show he was showing pornography to young girls while driving around in a van.

More specifically to the Cherish Perrywinkle murder, the state released horrific crime scene photos from when Cherish’s body was found in a tidal creek of the Trout River behind Highlands Baptist Church. The 8-year-old's partially-clothed body was in about 6 inches of water of the tidal creek, hidden under a log and weighted down by asphalt chunks.

Hearing the details about Smith was horrifying for Cherish’s mother Rayne.

IMAGES: Evidence photos in kidnapping/murder case

“He was scoping for a child. If it wasn’t my daughter, Cherish, it would’ve been someone else," Rayne said. "This monster should have never been let out. Ever. When is it gonna stop?”

When Smith's van was stopped on Interstate 95 at about the same time that morning, he was still wet, had mud on his shoes and was covered with scratches. He told officers he didn't know Cherish, that he’d been smoking crack with prostitutes all night.

The convicted sex offender who was on probation on a 2009 conviction told his mother he was going out to an Alcohol Anonymous meeting.

While officers told him they had surveillance of him leaving Walmart with the girl the previous night, he admitted she’d gotten into his van, but said she jumped out at a red light. He then invoked his right to a lawyer.

The autopsy report indicated Cherish had been sexually assaulted and strangled. There was also blunt force trauma to her head and face.

"This person's intention probably, by putting the body in water or near water, was in hopes that the water would wash away some of the evidence that was on her body that he left there after he sexually assaulted her and murdered her," said Channel 4 crime analyst Ken Jefferson.

His plan didn't work. The medical examiner said Smith’s DNA was found on her body, and the profile shows the likelihood the DNA came from anyone other than Smith is 35-quintillion-to-1.

Among the evidence released Monday by prosecutors are audio recordings from 2009 when Smith was convicted of impersonating a DCF worker and trying to pick a child up in Callahan. Those recordings include a phone conversation between detectives and Smith’s mother, during which she said her son would “never prey on a child.”

“He has never touched a child, he is just never around children, children are just not his thing,” said Smith’s mother.

In the same conversation, Smith’s mother did talk about the time Smith was arrested back in 1992.

“He had two, and I think I am right that he had been using drugs, and I guess, there was an exposure, he exposed himself to a child. Did not touch the child, but it was a child that was in the area where he was living. The child reported the description of whatever Don was driving at that time,” said Smith’s mother.

As far as Smith himself, he didn’t say much in 2009 while speaking with detectives.

“I just need time to think, I need to figure things out, man. You know, I told you all what I did and I got a warrant, so I mean, what good is turning myself in, trying to figure it out from that point,” said Smith.

While the photos from the crime scene and details about scratches found on Smith and mud found on his shoes will be brought in as evidence in court, information about Smith’s past crimes involving children probably will not.

“Just because we know there were prior incidents similar to when there were children involved doesn't mean that there's enough of a pattern that this could be used against him,” said defense attorney Gene Nichols.

“It's obvious by looking at this person's past history that he is sick," said Jefferson. "He's not to be trusted with freedom, liberties that we enjoy today. He's not to be trusted in society, needs to be locked away for rest of life.”

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