Revisiting a Tragedy Death Penalty Case Reopened for Child Killer in Florida
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Revisiting a Tragedy: Death Penalty Case Reopened for Child Killer in Florida

Donald Smith attended a new hearing in a Duval County court on Monday morning, and the judge decided to reschedule the hearing to January 16.

The death penalty case of Cherish Perrywinkle, the 8-year-old girl who was kidnapped, raped, and murdered nearly 10 years ago after disappearing from a Jacksonville Walmart, is returning to a Duval County courtroom.

The shocking case had a profound impact on the Jacksonville community for months.

In 2018, Donald Smith was convicted of kidnapping, raping, and killing Cherish Perrywinkle and received a death sentence. Currently, he is held at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford, Florida.

However, in July 2023, a judge approved a new evidentiary hearing following claims by Smith’s current legal team that his original attorneys mishandled the trial.

The alleged mistakes included the decision not to cross-examine Cherish Perrywinkle’s mother immediately after the prosecution played her panicked 911 call.

This choice was seen as relinquishing an opportunity to challenge Rayne Perrywinkle’s credibility, including alleged “prior false statements under oath.”

Sheila Loizos, director of the State Attorney’s Office’s legal division, argued that the decision not to question Rayne Perrywinkle was made by Smith himself, instructing his attorneys accordingly.

Smith’s post-conviction attorney, Maritere Taveras-Zohn, also criticized Smith’s trial attorneys for calling forensic psychologist Dr. Heather Holmes as their first witness during the penalty phase of Smith’s trial.

Taveras-Zohn argued that Holmes did not present any mitigating evidence and putting her on the stand “opened the door to an avalanche of otherwise unavailable aggravating evidence,” including Smith’s prior sex crimes.

Representatives from the State Attorney’s Office countered these claims, asserting that the evidence against Smith remains “overwhelming.”

“This was an incredibly brutal crime. There was a lot of evidence. The only mitigation that had a chance was to show that Donald Smith was a horrible human being. And it’s the state’s fault that he was free. He should have been incarcerated, and that ‘mistake’ was the states fault that he was not incarcerated,” Sheila Loizos, with the state attorney’s office, stated.

In the end, Senior Circuit Judge Mallory Cooper concurred that a comprehensive evidentiary hearing, involving sworn testimony from Smith’s trial lawyers, should take place. Consequently, a new hearing has been approved and is set for December 4th at the Duval County Courthouse.

With more than two years of expertise in news and analysis, Eileen Stewart is a seasoned reporter. Eileen is a respected voice in this field, well-known for her sharp reporting and insightful analysis. Her writing covers a wide range of subjects, from politics to culture and more.