Cherish Perrywinkle

A judge postponed the trial of Donald Smith, the man charged with raping and murdering 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle, at a pretrial hearing Wednesday. Our news partner News4Jax has the full report.

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News4Jax

Florida lawmakers want to toughen the state’s sexual predator laws and they’ve said the reforms will be the centerpiece of this year’s legislative session.

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Welcome to WJCT First Read, your daily weekday morning round-up of stories from the First Coast, around Florida, and across the country. We'll also preview some of WJCT's upcoming news programming.

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Karen Feagins / WJCT

At a hearing Wednesday afternoon at Jacksonville City Hall, state legislators, law enforcement officials and mental health professionals discussed what new legislation might protect children from sexual offenders and predators. 

Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, called the hearing following the June abduction and murder of 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle.

The man accused of Perrywinkle's murder is a repeat sex offender who had been released from jail only about a month before her death.

A legislative hearing is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon at Jacksonville City Hall on state laws related to sex offenders. The hearing is open to the public and experts, including officials representing state law enforcement and child services agencies, will be in attendance.

The meeting comes only a few months after the abduction, sexual assault, and murder of 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle in Jacksonville. 

Prosecutors say Donald James Smith, a 56-year-old sex offender who had been released from jail only about a month before he allegedly killed Perrywinkle, has a long history of preying on young girls.  

Smith pleaded not guilty to charges of kidnapping, sexual battery and murder. In July, State Attorney Angela Corey said she would seek the death penalty in the case.

Tomorrow's hearing is sponsored by Florida State Representative Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, and it comes as an online petition to enact "Cherish's Law" has garnered over 2,200 signatures.

The petition was created by a group called "Justice For Cherish" formed, according to their Facebook page, in August.

While the group's Facebook page and petition site offer few details on what changes they would propose, they do appear to advocate longer prison sentences for repeat sexual offenders.

"How many more children do we have to lose before you keep the repeat offenders locked up for the rest of their lives?" the petition asks. "The only reform for a repeat predator is life."

What new laws or changes to existing laws would you propose to prevent sexual assault? Tell us on our Facebook page or on Twitter @WJCTJax.

Welcome to WJCT First Read, your daily weekday morning round-up of stories from the First Coast, around Florida, and across the country.

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