A jury has been empaneled in the long-delayed first-degree murder trial of Donald Smith.
Eight African American women, one Hispanic woman, four white men and three white women will sit in judgment for the guilt phase of the trial, and if necessary, the penalty phase.
Smith is accused of raping and killing 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle in June 2013. He has pleaded not guilty. He faces life in prison or death if convicted. All of the jurors ranked themselves a 2.5 or 3 on a 1-5 scale indicating support of the death penalty.
The jury selection process, which began Monday with a pool of 300, ended rather abruptly Friday, after a long and somewhat disorienting morning. Court began late, as it did Thursday, and for the same reason: several potential jurors failed to show up on time.
Defense attorney Julie Shlax began the day explaining to jurors about the trial’s penalty phase, if one is needed. If Smith is convicted, he will face life in prison or the death penalty – and it will be up to jurors to decide.
Schlax trod a fine line, asking jurors to imagine how they might weigh the available punishments, assuming her client has been convicted. Since jury selection to this point has emphasized the presumption of innocence, several jurors were confused. Some even appeared to think it was a trick.
One said, "I feel like we’re being asked to make a decision and we’re not even jurors yet."
In order to tease out potential conflicts or biases, Schlax asked a series of deeply personal questions of jurors – whether they’d been the victim of crime or sexual abuse, and whether they had a history of mental illness or substance abuse.
At one point, she asked a juror what she would need to hear about Smith’s history in order to weigh any mitigating factors. The woman listed things like his past and his life circumstances.
But another woman said that if Smith was convicted she would want to know less about him and more about his alleged victim Cherish Perrywinkle. She said she’d want to know what her last meal was, and who her friends were. She added that nobody will hear that, however, because quote she has no voice.
Stay with First Coast News as we continue to follow this developing story.