On June 2013, Cherish Perrywinkle was raped and strangled by Donald Smith, a man who had taken the girl from a Northside Walmart after befriending her mother, Rayne Perrywinkle.
After being found guilty of kidnapping, raping, and killing Cherish, the jury unanimously recommended Smith be sentenced to death.
The final decision on Smith’s sentence lies with Circuit Judge Mallory Cooper, who listened as Cherish’s mother shared the impact on her life and that of her family during a recent court hearing.
Loss of Custody and Home
An emotional Perrywinkle explained in court that after losing Cherish, she also lost custody of her two younger daughters and her home.
“More than anything else, I lost Cherish,” she said, turning angrily toward Smith, “in the most violent way possible.”
It is unknown why Perrywinkle lost custody of her two younger children, as well as her home, but the impact on a grieving family is palpable.
Perrywinkle praised the jury’s unanimous decision to sentence Smith to death and voiced her own desire for him to pay for stealing the innocence and life of her daughter”.
An Emotional Loss
Perrywinkle was reported as saying that of all the things she lost following Cherish’s death, it was the eight-year-old girl herself that had the biggest impact on her life.
“I will never get to see her grow up. I will never see her get married and enjoy life. He has taken that from me, and it can never be returned,”
Perrywinkle said, fighting back tears. “I have so much rage inside of me because of what he did. I have never felt this much hatred in my life.”
There is no cure for Perrywinkle’s emotional pain, and she admitted that the events of that night will always be a part of her.
The fact that Cherish was born on Christmas Eve makes the holiday season especially difficult for her. She told reporters:
“When other people are celebrating Christmas Eve, to them it is Christmas Eve, but in my mind it will always be Cherish’s birthday. Since she was taken from me, we have never been able to spend the holidays together as a family, and I never will again.”
Since Cherish’s death, Rayne Perrywinkle has had reminders of her daughter every day. She cherishes the little things like brushing Cherish’s hair, watching her play with her sisters, and waiting for her to come home from school.
The emotional pain she feels is almost unbearable, and it has been reported that a bodyguard had to restrain her in court outbursts during the trial.
An Unlikely Meeting
On the night of Cherish’s death, Rayne Perrywinkle shared with reporters that she met Smith after the stranger introduced himself in the parking lot of the Dollar General store.
She said he was charismatic and offered to help her with a Walmart gift card, saying his wife had it and would meet them at the store.
She also said that after being allowed to shop for almost an hour, Smith suggested they grab some cheeseburgers.
Cherish went with him to the front of the Walmart, but instead of getting food at the McDonald’s at the front of the store, Smith walked out with Cherish, skipping after him.
The scene was caught on surveillance video, and it is the last known footage of Cherish alive.
The Torture and Terror
What happened to Cherish after that was described to the court in gruesome detail by the Medical Examiner and other experts.
Perrywinkle listened from a nearby room in the courthouse as her daughter’s torture and terror were described with cruel and vicious detail.
The pain endured in those moments was worse than anything Perrywinkle could have ever imagined. “It tore me apart. I was screaming. I was on the floor, screaming,” Perrywinkle said. “He needs to be put to death.”
Hope for Closure
The jury found Smith guilty in short order. They voted 12-0 to recommend the death penalty. However, the final decision lies with Cooper.
A judge overturning the jury’s wishes would be highly unusual, so it’s likely Perrywinkle will get what she wants: the knowledge that the state will take the life of the man who took her daughter’s.
Many people find solace in knowing that the person responsible for the unfathomable harm perpetrated on innocent families will receive punishment for their crimes.
It is hoped that Perrywinkle, her family, and many others dealing with incompressible grief might find in this verdict a sense of closure and justice.