Opening statements in the murder case of Cherish Perrywinkle opened with an strong and decisive statement from State Attorney Melissa Nelson.
“Cherish Perrywinkle was 8 years old. She weighed 67 pounds. Separated from her mother, from her little sisters, from all she knew that was safe in this world, she spent the last petrifying hours of her life with him," Nelson said as she turned and pointed at Donald Smith, who was seated between his two attorneys. "He gagged her, he raped her, he sodomized her, and then he strangled her," She continued. "He gagged her with such force her gums and her nostrils bled, he strangled her with such force her eyeballs bled. She did not die quickly, and she did not die easily, in fact, hers was a brutal and tortured death."
Cherish's mother, Rayne Perrywinkle, took the stand. With her soft-spoken voice and nervous demeanor, she answered questions from the state about what happened the night her daughter was kidnapped.
Rayne was in the Dollar General on Edgewood, shopping for clothes for her daughters when she first met Donald Smith.
He offered to help her pay for a dress she had put back for Cherish. Then he said he had a $150 gift card to Walmart he and his wife didn't need. They just needed to wait for her.
Rayne said she didn't believe he was a threat.
“He said he worked for Habijax and we talked about church and he told me about the church he went to and he asked if I knew that church and I said 'no,'” said Rayne.
When his wife never showed up, he offered to take Rayne and her three girls to Walmart himself. Rayne said she hesitated to get into the van because she was still waiting for his wife to come.
“He got snappy with me because I wouldn't get in the van. He had an attitude. He said ‘you don’t have to do this.’ He asked if I wanted to see his driver’s license. I felt foolish after that, I thought I was just being paranoid," said Rayne. "He looked into my face and told me I was safe.”
She wanted to believe him. Rayne Perrywinkle said she believed the gift card was real because her girls needed clothes. In the frantic 911 call recording, she echoed the same sentiment.
“He was giving my 8-year-old too much attention ... I should have told him no, but my girls need clothes so bad," Rayne said in her 911 call that was played for the jury. At the time she could not remember what Cherish was wearing because she said she was panicking.
However, on the witness stand Monday, she recalled, "Purple flip flops, an orange dress with a fruit pattern on it. She had a pink headband."
During the 911 call she broke down, looking down as the sound of her own panicked and heartbroken voice played over the speaker for the courtroom to hear.
When asked if she would have Smith take Cherish out of the Walmart, had he asked, she said no. She only let Cherish go because she didn't want to seem too overbearing and because she knew the McDonald's was inside the store.
But the McDonald's was closed and surveillance video showed Cherish skipping alongside a man believed to be Donald Smith, getting into his van, and driving off, never to be seen alive again.
Donald Smith leaned over to his attorney and told her he did not want to cross-examine Rayne Perrywinkle.
“I don’t want her to go through anything she doesn’t have to go through, I’m done,” said Smith when asked.
When Rayne was excused, she stared Smith down as she walked by.
The second to last witness of the day was Officer Wilkie. On June 22, 2013, he was a K-9 officer with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. He responded to the felony traffic stop and patted Smith down. He later was the one to find Cherish's body wedged up under a tree off of Rutger Road.
When Officer Wilkie woke up that day, he was made aware of a BOLO (be on the lookout) for a white van referencing a missing child. He also saw the Amber Alert which had been issued after 4 a.m. that morning.
His initial thought was that he would be working on that cast today.
On the stand, Officer Wilkie explained that K-9 units help to aid in missing person cases because K-9s can pick up scents and find people quickly.
It was later that morning he was called and instructed to help with a felony traffic stop at Dunn Avenue and I-95.
Wilkie arrived on the scene and said that another officer on scene said over his PA system for Smith to put his hands out the window. When Smith did, Wilkie said that Smith crossed them when he put them out the window.
He said in all his traffic stops no one had ever done that.
Similarly, when officers asked Smith to lift his shirt to show that he did not have any weapons, he put his hands up in the air. Wilkie called these gestures 'flamboyant.'
When patting Smith down, Wilkie said his pants were soaking wet, "I shouted out 'Oh my god, she's in the water!'"
Smith did not say anything to Wilkie, but looked back at him. "Just the look on his face confirmed it to me," the officer testified.
Wilkie then drove to the place where at least three witnesses had seen a white van, believed to be Smith's, backed up to some water on Rutger's Road. Wilkie let his dog Gator out to work. He found a trail which led them over to some pushed over reeds and a tree on its side.
Wilkie found Cherish Perrywinkle's lifeless body tucked up under the tree. She was weighed down with asphalt rocks, hidden with a branch and some grass.
He immediately knew she was dead.
“The only thing that I could do at that point, my mind was, stand by with her and protect her and protect the evidence so that one day whoever did this to her could be held accountable.” He said a gator could have come up in the body of water where they were.
Wilkie said he was emotional when he was relieved of his post. He remembers her orange fruit-patterned dress because his daughter once had the same one. The end of his testimony had him clearing his throat with emotion.
Jurors dabbed their eyes when they were shown crime scene photos of Cherish's brutalized body. Crime Scene Detective Long who took the stand concluded by saying that they never found Cherish's underwear or flipflops.
In all, 12 people took the witness stand today and more will take the stand tomorrow including Medical Examiner Rao who will speak extensively on the injuries Cherish sustained. We will continue to stream the trial on Firstcoastnews.com and on our Facebook all week.