• Why didn't Donald Smith plead guilty to Cherish Perrywinkle's murder?

    By: Jenna Bourne, Action News Jax

    Updated:

    After less than 15 minutes of deliberation on Wednesday morning, a jury found 61-year-old Donald Smith guilty of kidnapping, raping and murdering 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle in 2013.

    Smith now faces the death penalty.

    Right before putting Donald Smith’s fate in the jury’s hands, his defense attorneys decided not to deliver a closing argument.

    CHERISH PERRYWINKLE: Six things we learned during the trial 

    During the trial, Smith’s defense attorneys did not call any of its own witnesses and barely cross-examined the prosecution’s witnesses.

    During Monday’s 5-minute opening statement, Smith’s attorney Julie Schlax offered no alternative explanation for Cherish’s death.

    So, why did Donald Smith bother to go through with a trial instead of pleading guilty?

    Action News Jax Law and Safety Expert Dale Carson said there could be a legal strategy behind it.

    “If you want to appeal the conduct of the police, or the prosecutor, or even your own defense attorney, you have to go through a trial. Because when you plead, you waive those particular rights,” said Carson.

    As a former FBI agent, Carson spent decades exploring the criminal mind.

    Carson said Smith may have wanted to go through with the trial because he enjoyed the attention.

    “He is able to relive his entire crime. He gets to see crime scene photographs. He gets to see medical examiner photographs,” said Carson.

    DONALD SMITH: Doctor says 'most sociopaths have a very good side to them' 

    Carson said Smith likely felt powerful and in control when he watched witnesses’ and jurors’ emotional responses.

    “Donald Smith has played us in a way that is rather extraordinary. Because everyone in the community who saw or participated in this is just absolutely horrified. So, in that narrow context, he wins,” said Carson.

    The jury will return to the courthouse on Tuesday for the sentencing phase of Smith’s trial.

    Under a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the jury’s decision on the death penalty must be unanimous.

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