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Hearing On Sex Offender Laws Planned As Momentum Builds For "Cherish's Law"

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.

Excerpted press release on the hearing, from the office of Rep. Janet Adkins:

Fernandina Beach, Florida - State Rep. Janet H. Adkins will host a legislative hearing on September 4th in Jacksonville City Hall to discuss laws related to sexual offenders.

Rep. Adkins will be accepting public testimony at this hearing. This legislative hearing will allow members from the public to deliver testimony and provide an opportunity to gather input from both the public and subject matter experts about necessary changes to legislation governing sex offender crimes. Rep. Adkins has gathered an expert panel from the fields of criminal justice system, community controls, supervision of released offenders and mental health counseling to provide further testimony to the current laws and systems in place today.

“The tragic circumstances surrounding Cherish Perrywinkle and Somer Thompson underscore the need for us to have a close look at the laws related to sex offender crimes against children. As a mother of two school-age children, I understand the great importance of keeping our children safe”, said Rep. Adkins.

“It is my goal to listen and gather information regarding the current laws and circumstances regarding registered sex offenders in Florida. I plan to file legislation in the 2014 session to improve and strengthen laws of Florida as it relates to these crimes against children”.

Guest panel experts from each of the following organizations will be on hand to hear the public testimony and provide information in regards to current legislation and controls: Florida Department of Law Enforcement; Florida Department of Children and Families; Florida Department of Corrections; Florida Council Against Sexual Violence; Community Behavioral Services; Jacksonville and Clay County Sheriff’s Offices. 

The hearing will be held September 4th, 2:00 PM to 4:30 PM at the Jacksonville City Hall, Lynwood Roberts Room, located at 117 W. Duval Street, Jacksonville, FL 32202. The hearing is open to the public, with limited seating. Highlights of the hearing will be made available at a later date.

Anyone wishing to receive additional information can contact Jim Adams or Joe Zimmerman, both with Representative Adkins’ office, 904-491-3664. Those wishing to submit questions in advance of the hearing may email them to

Patrick Donges served as WJCT's Digital Content Editor from August 2013 - August 2014.