The Donald Smith trial continues Friday in what may to be the final day of jury selection.
The process of eliminating jurors who are familiar with the case or unable to be impartial for other reasons begin Monday with a pool of 300; 78 remain.
The lurid case has been in the headlines virtually since the disappearance of 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle on June 21, 2013. The girl was last seen leaving a Lem Turner Walmart with Smith, a registered sex offender. She was found hours later strangled to death. She had been sexually assaulted.
Smith has pleaded not guilty to charges of kidnapping, sexual battery and first-degree murder.
Today his attorney showed potential jurors a photo of Cherish Perrywinkle, saying she wanted to drive home what she called the "gut wrenching" nature of the case. She also delved deeply into harrowing topics, including whether potential jurors have endured sexual abuse and violence, or have a history of mental illness or substance abuse in their lives.
Two potential jurors removed from the panel midday Thursday. The day began with some lighthearted moments. In early questioning, one potential juror acknowledged knowing several local judges, to which Judge Mallory Cooper quipped, “you must play golf.”
But there were also many sober moments, as questions ranged into deeply a personal territory. Attorneys pressed jurors more closely for details of their personal lives – where they work, whether they have children and the type of work they do. One woman broke down when she told prosecutors she had been a victim of sexual assault, as had her two daughters.
“I don’t know if I can do this,” she wept.
Another worried how others would regard her if the jury returned a verdict of not-guilty.
Both were dismissed.
One man, who previously worked as a lawyer in a Middle Eastern country, was asked if he could apply U.S. legal standards. “Yes,” he said. “I am an American citizen”
Another juror said he got an “awkward” feeling when he thought about the charges. “I have three children as well, three girls,” referencing the sexual assault charges, he added, “It’s always been a great fear of ours.”
Attorneys for Smith emphasized their client’s Constitutional right to remain silent, comparing it to the right to carry a firearm or vote. “Are you going to hold it against him” if Donald Smith doesn’t testify? defense attorney Charles Fletcher asked. “No,” one juror replied, “It’s probably the smartest thing to do.”
Prosecutor Mark Calilel told jurors that because it is a capital murder case, jurors have an extra responsibility. Typically, jurors only sit determine guilt or innocence. In this case, he said, the death penalty is at play. “If you return a verdict of death, you are saying Mr. Smith deserves to die.”
Attorneys for both sides tried to prepare jurors for the evidence they will be asked to review, which includes autopsy and crime scene photos. Fletcher said they went beyond disturbing and could be described as “shocking and gruesome.”
Calliel noted, “You are going to have to see some things you probably never wanted to see.”
But he said despite the horrific nature of the evidence, the jury must remain dispassionate. “Can you set aside sympathy and anger?” he asked. “Because they have no place in this courtroom.”
The jury will be formed by selecting or striking from the lowest numbers to the highest. The case requires 12 jurors and 4 alternates. The case will be live-streamed at firstcoastnews.com once opening statements begin, possibly Monday.
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