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Jury Selection In Donald Smith Trial For Cherish Perrywinkle's Murder Begins

The trial for Donald Smith, the 61-year-old man who is charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping and sexual battery in the death of an 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle, begins Monday.

If convicted, Smith could face life in prison or the death penalty. 

Smith, a registered sex offender, was released from jail for an unrelated crime 21 days before his arrest for the death of Cherish -- a mere 10 hours after she was abducted in 2014.

Last week, a judge decided photos taken by the medical examiner will be shown to the jury. The photos will be used to learn how Cherish spent the last moments of her life after she was kidnapped and raped.

Smith’s lawyers argued autopsy pictures are too shocking and will make it difficult to have a fair trial because of the jury’s emotions. The medical examiner agreed the photos will be shocking but ultimately said the photos will help the jury understand what Cherish went through.

The jury will also see surveillance video from 2013, as Smith walked Cherish out of a Walmart on Lem Turner Road.

Smith’s defense continues pushing for a change in venue. They argue that the pretrial media coverage of this case will prevent Smith from getting a fair trial. The judge, however, said the court needs to try to find a jury in Duval County before considering a change in venue.

The Jury

Jurors will come out in groups of 100 at a time. They’ll fill out a questionnaire with questions from both sides. By the end of Monday, there are expected to be about 300 jurors filling out the questionnaire.

Once a jury is picked, the trial is expected to last three to four days, with another three or four days for the penalty phase. It’s uncertain if the penalty phase will start immediately. In Duval County, there’s usually a one to two week gap.

According to Smith's attorneys, he no longer wants the jury to be sequestered for the entire trial. However, in court, his attorneys made it clear they are concerned about Smith getting a fair trial.

Area attorney Gene Nichols, who’s not affiliated with the case, said he believes Smith's attorneys will have a hard time getting the case moved.

“Unless they can prove something beforehand, those motions will be denied until they get into the middle of a jury trial,” Nichols said.

Victim's Mother Will Attend The Trial

Cherish’s mother, Rayne Perrywinkle, told our News4Jax partner she never thought it would take this long to get justice for her daughter in court.  Monday's start of jury selection is the beginning of the end for a long road for her.

“I’ve been waiting four years and eight months,” Perrywinkle said. “Now I’m counting the days.”

Perrywinkle said she won’t be in the courtroom for the jury selection but will be there for every bit of the trial once it gets underway. It’s something Perrywinkle said she’s been preparing for.

“I’ve already done some training in the courtroom,” Perrywinkle said. “It’s different (than) what you see on television. It’s very intense. I had no clue.”

Perrywinkle’s wait to get justice for her daughter was extended when a prolonged fight over Florida’s death penalty law ensued. The law was settled in January with a change -- now a unanimous vote of a 12-person jury is required to put someone to death.

“The state, they’re definitely understanding that they have to present a stronger case and convince all of the jurors that this is the type of case that will fall under the death penalty requirement,” Jacksonville-area attorney Rhonda Peoples-Waters said.

Perrywinkle said she wants the death penalty for Smith and believes he will get a unanimous jury vote.

“Of course there’s a part of me deep inside that’s kind of scared he won’t (get the death penalty), because I’ve been waiting four years and eight months for this,” Perrywinkle said. “But I have to believe, in the end, he’s going to get it.”

News4Jax will have a crew inside the courtroom when jury selection begins.