JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- (WJXT) -- More than 4½ years after Donald Smith was seen walking out of a Walmart with 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle, the girl's mother took the stand Monday morning to confront the man prosecutors say raped her daughter before choking the life out of her and dumping her half-naked body behind a Northside church.
Rayne Perrywinkle, who was called as the state's first witness, glared at Smith as she began answering a prosecutor's questions about what happened the night she said she met Smith at a Dollar General in June 2013.
Perrywinkle admitted to loading Cherish and her two other daughters into Smith's van that night after he promised to spend a $100 Walmart gift card on clothes for the kids. Her answers about why she chose to get into Smith's van with her children were halting and tinged with regret and sorrow.
She said that after shopping for a while with her girls in the Walmart, waiting for the wife Smith said was bringing the gift card, she allowed Cherish to follow Smith, who said he was going to get food. She told the court she believed her daughter would be safe because the McDonald's was just inside the store.
Store surveillance video showed Smith and Cherish instead walked out the front door about 10:30 p.m.
Perrywinkle's voice cracked as she said she would not have let Cherish leave the store with Smith if she knew that's what he was planning. She appeared emotional as she recalled the moments not long after when she went to the front of the store and realized Cherish and Smith weren't there.
Less than 12 hours after the video shows Smith leaving the store, police stopped his van on Interstate 95 near downtown. Police said his clothes were wet and muddy, covered in pieces of vegetation similar to what was found near Cherish’s body in a creek behind a Northside church that same morning.
Smith was stonefaced and occasionally took notes as he listened to Perrywinkle's testimony, and when prosecutors were done, Smith told Judge Mallory Cooper under oath that he did not want his lawyer to cross-examine Perrywinkle.
Cooper made it clear that his attorneys would not get another chance to question Perrywinkle, but Smith said he didn't want to put her through it.
During opening statements, State Attorney Melissa Nelson told the 12 jurors and four alternates that Smith, 61, abducted Cherish from the Walmart, brutally raped her and strangled her.
Nelson said DNA evidence will show that Cherish suffered cruelly at the hands of Smith.
"Cherish did not die quickly or easily. It was a brutal and tortured death," Nelson said.
Defense attorney Julie Schlax began her opening statement by saying that some of the burden for what happened to Cherish falls on Cherish's mother, who made the decision to go with Smith to Walmart and let her daughter walk off with him when he offered to buy her a cheeseburger.
Schlax indicated her team would be questioning Perrywinkle, but Smith later declined to have them cross-examine her.