WATCH First Coast News at 11 p.m. Thursday for On Your Side's Anne Schindler's special report on this case.
For the past six months, First Coast News has been examining the case of Donald Smith. Not just the most recent case, in which he raped and murdered 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle in 2013, or even the case before that, where he tried to lure a 9-year-old away from her grandmother for a rape exam in 2009.
Our examination starts in 1977 with Smith’s first arrest for "lewd and lascivious assault on a child."
That very first case established both the problem and the pattern that would persist for more than three decades. Smith was a mentally disordered sex offender who needed to be confined, but was released anyway.
It happened in 1977, and it happened in almost every case that followed, until 2018, when he was sentenced to death for Perrywinkle's murder.
TIMELINE: Donald Smith's long, sordid history and the many missed opportunities to protect the community from him
Our review of Smith’s decades of predation turned up a trove of never-reported documents and recordings that sheds new light on one very dark human being. Amid dozens of police reports and thousands of pages of court records are a few documents that dramatically underscore the missed opportunities and bad decisions that allowed Smith to continue offending.
- A 2002 letter from Smith’s doctor warning of the “clear present” danger he posed. The letter came within a month of Smith’s release from prison on the condition that he undergo chemical castration and sex offender therapy, something his doctor said he refused. In his letter to the State Attorney’s Office, the doctor called the situation “terribly troublesome and dangerous” and a “direct disregard for the safety and welfare of children.” He added that Smith posed “a clear present and future danger to children and the community” – a warning that had zero effect.
- A document from the State Attorney’s Office “voluntarily dismissing” the agency’s 1999 effort to have Smith permanently confined. The document explains the decision to drop the case, citing “numerous weaknesses with the case” including the fact that Smith -- despite having been convicted of two separate lewd and lascivious assaults, as well as attempted kidnapping -- “never committed a violent offense.” Prosecutors also note they've been unable to locate Smith's kidnapping victim to testify at the confinement hearing. That victim was “easily” located by prosecutors in the 2013 case, and willingly testified.
- An annotated version of the same document, marked up by prosecutors in the Perrywinkle case as they pick apart its reasoning. The notes call the decision “terrible” and critique the legal analysis with comments like “What is that?” “So what?” and “Try!”
- A disturbing police report that even lawyers familiar with Smith’s case didn’t know about: In 1998, Smith was found in his car with semen on his chest and KY Jelly on his hands, along with a bottle of vodka, a bottle of warm urine and a note that read “I want to see you hang by your neck.” The report was never brought up during discussions about whether to permanently confine Smith.
First Coast News also obtained recordings of Smith – for the first time -- discussing kidnapping and killing Perrywinkle.
Starting at 11 p.m. Thursday, On Your Side begins a deep dive into what went wrong in the case of a predator one psychologist called “the most dangerous sex offender [she’d] ever evaluated.”