The medical examiner who conducted the autopsy of 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle, a Florida girl who was abducted, raped and murdered, was reduced to tears and needed to take a break as she described the girl’s severe injuries while photographs were show in the courtroom Tuesday.
At the trial of 61-year-old Donald Smith, the registered sex offender accused of the crime, Jacksonville Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Valerie Rao told the court that Perrywinkle suffered major injuries all over her body from being strangled and raped.
As Rao viewed photographs of the girl’s injuries, she became tearful and requested a recess so she could gather her emotions. At one point, Rao described some of Perrywinkle’s anatomy as having been “totally destroyed.”
“Looking at her genital area and her anal area; she had so much trauma, the anatomy was totally distorted by the injury that she sustained both to her vaginal area and her anus,” Rao testified.
Smith faces a possible death sentence if he is convicted on charges of kidnapping, rape and murder.
“What she sustained was tremendous force on her neck, such that she basically, she could not breathe. She suffered swelling of her brain as a result of lack of oxygen to her brain, and as a result of which, she died,” Rao said.
In June 2013, Smith allegedly lured Perrywinkle’s family to a Walmart, saying he’d buy them a McDonald’s meal and new clothing. He then allegedly left with Perrywinkle, who was never seen alive again. Security footage from the store that was presented in court appears to show the girl following Smith to his van.
The autopsy photos, which brought many of the jurors to tears, showed hemorrhaging and red blood vessels around the little girl’s neck. Rao said the force with which the girl was strangled was so strong that she suffered skin abrasions.
Rao estimated that it took Perrywinkle three to five minutes to die and that she tried to fight back, managing to “inflict an injury on Smith’s penis” after he allegedly attempted oral sex on her.
After Rao requested a recess, Smith’s attorneys asked the judge to declare a mistrial, arguing that the medical examiner’s emotional reaction on the stand could prejudice the jurors, reports News4Jax. Judge Mallory Cooper denied the motion.
State Attorney Melissa Nelson also played for the jury secret recordings of conversations in a jail, on which she claimed Smith can be heard bragging about committing the crime and his preference for underage girls.
Both sides rested their cases Tuesday. Closing arguments will be presented on Wednesday, after which the case will go to the jury for deliberations.