The mother of 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle who was abducted from a Florida Walmart and later raped and murdered testified through sobs that the man accused of the crime had convinced her he was a generous Good Samaritan.
Rayne Perrywinkle sat facing 61-year-old defendant Donald Smith in a Jacksonville courtroom today and told the court about the day her daughter was abducted in June 2013.
Smith is charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping and rape. If convicted, he faces a possible death sentence, according to the Daily Mail.
Perrywinkle said Smith had been hovering around her and her three daughters while they shopped at a Dollar General store earlier in the day on June 21, 2013. She was looking for clothes for all three children and could not afford the purchases.
Smith watched as Rayne tried to work out how to pay for the clothes, Rayne testified, and said when she came outside he was waiting. He offered to take them to a nearby Walmart and make purchases with a US$150 ($206) gift card.
The mother testified that she was wary, but accepted because Smith assured her his wife would meet them at the Walmart.
"He looked into my face and told me I was safe," Rayne Perrywinkle said.
"Did you want to believe him?" prosecutor Mark Caliel asked.
"Very much so," Rayne replied.
The mother and her daughters piled into Smith's white van. They went to a nearby Walmart and she began shopping with her girls, placing three small piles of clothing in a shopping cart.
It got late, after 10pm, and Smith's wife never appeared. Rayne said her daughters were getting restless because they had not had dinner.
Smith told Rayne he would go to a McDonald's inside the store and get them cheeseburgers. Cherish followed him and was never seen alive again.
Rayne Perrywinkle said about 20 minutes later, she realised the McDonald's inside the Walmart was closed and she began to panic. Her cellphone didn't work - a daughter had dunked it in water to try and clean it - so she cried out for help, realising her daughter had been taken.
"I was yelling 'Call 911! My daughter's been taken,' and no one would help me right away," she said. About 40 minutes after her daughter disappeared, an employee gave her a cellphone and she called 911, prosecutors said.
Rayne could be heard telling the emergency dispatcher: "He wanted her to buy these really tall shoes that were women's shoes and I told him 'no'. I said, 'They're too high for her, I wouldn't even wear shoes that high'.
"Maybe he was grooming her. I hope to God he doesn't kill her and I hope to God he doesn't rape her.'"
Surveillance footage from the store caught the image of Smith and Cherish exiting, the girl skipping out behind him.
"No one noticed. It looked like a grandfather and a granddaughter," State Attorney Melissa Nelson told the jury during her opening statement. "Every mother's darkest nightmare became Rayne Perrywinkle's reality. She would never see her daughter Cherish alive again."
She said Cherish's brutalised body would later be found in a creek. She'd been raped, smothered and had blunt force trauma to the back of her head. She was wearing an orange dress with a fruit pattern on it. When Smith was arrested, Nelson said he was sopping wet from the waist down.
Nelson warned jurors that they will be "changed" by the end of the trial as she described in horrifying detail the injuries the young girl had suffered at the hands of her attacker, revealing that Cherish was gagged, raped, sodomised and strangled with such force that her eyeballs bled.
"Cherish did not die quickly, and she did not die easily. In fact, hers was a brutal and tortured death," Nelson told the court.
Smith's defence attorney, Julie Schlax, suggested to the jury that Rayne Perrywinkle made poor decisions getting into the van.
She said she would cross-examine Rayne, but after the mother's testimony Smith told his attorneys not to cross-examine her, so they told the court they had changed their mind.
Smith had been released from jail three weeks before Cherish's death, after serving 438 days on felony charges of child abuse and unlawful impersonation of a public employee.
The man had a long criminal history dating back to the 1970s related to lewd and lascivious conduct. He has been a registered sex offender since a 1993 conviction in Duval County for attempted kidnapping and selling obscene materials.
Doctors determined that he met the criteria of a violent sexual predator after arrests in 1999, and he had served prison time and been ordered to get treatment, according to the Florida Times-Union newspaper.
In 2009 he posed as a child welfare worker and asked a child sexually explicit questions on the telephone and was arrested on felony charges, which were later reduced to misdemeanour's, the newspaper reported.
Cherish was born after her mother, an exotic dancer, and her father, a sailor, had a one-night stand in 2004. Perrywinkle sued the father, Billy Jarreau, for child support three years later, and the two fought for custody of the girl for the rest of her life.
They traded accusations over how the girl got head lice and how she was dressed, as well as money.
In April 2010, a court-appointed evaluator recommended that Cherish live with her father — who, by that time, had moved to California with his new wife. The evaluator wrote that "neither parent was perfect" and acknowledged that it was the hardest case he had ever tackled.
But Perrywinkle had some troubling issues, the report noted, including eviction, a lack of money and some admitted mental health issues that led her to make poor choices.
"I fear for the child's future living with Ms Perrywinkle," wrote evaluator Robert Wood. "I do not make my recommendation lightly. I have given many, many hours of thought to the case."
Despite that recommendation, a Jacksonville judge ruled Cherish should live with her mother.
Perrywinkle also lost custody of her other children following the murder. The girls, Destiny and Nevaeh - Heaven spelled backwards - were adopted by an aunt who lives in Australia.