JACKSONVILLE, Florida — The mother of an 8-year-old Jacksonville girl who was abducted and slain will return to court this week in an attempt to regain custody of her two other daughters.
In her first extensive interview in nearly a year, Rayne Perrywinkle told the Florida Times-Union (http://tinyurl.com/mb376n2 ) that she's learned to become numb to the people pointing and taking photos of her at the grocery store. She says the public blames her for her daughter, Cherish's, death. She longs to speak out about the rumors swirling on the internet but is limited because prosecutors told her not to say anything that could hurt their first-degree murder case against Donald James Smith.
"There have been so many people trying to decipher what happened that night. They have their ideas and then there's what the truth is," she said. "They (the media) got it wrong in the first place and it (public perception) has spiraled out of control."
Smith, 57, is accused of killing Cherish after befriending her mother at a Dollar General store last summer. Police say he took Rayne Perrywinkle and her young children to a Wal-Mart store, where he offered to buy them clothes and food. Cherish disappeared after she went with Smith to a McDonald's inside the store. Her body was found the next day in a wooded area near a church.
Smith is awaiting trial on first-degree murder, kidnapping and sexual battery charges. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. Smith had a lengthy rap sheet of convictions for sex crimes against children and had gotten out of prison less than a month before Perrywinkle was killed.
Perrywinkle struggles to discuss her young daughter's funeral, where the grieving mother needed to be carried away.
"What parent wants to see their child in a box waiting for them," Perrywinkle said. " . When I was walking on my way to see Cherish, I fell a few times. I was sobbing on the floor and I didn't want to stand up."
The state later took custody of her two other daughters, a 5-year-old and 6-year-old. Rayne Perrywinkle will be in court Wednesday trying to regain custody.
Perrywinkle said she wasn't a bad mother and didn't give Cherish to Smith. She said she's been drug tested nearly 10 times by both the state Department of Children and Families and the court and they've all been negative.
"I don't do drugs. I don't sell them. I don't have them around," she said, addressing frequent rumors.
Perrywinkle said she doesn't fault the department and has been working on everything the court ordered. For now, she's allowed weekly two-hour visits with her girls where they often play outside and draw pictures.
"I hope it changes soon, I want them home," Perrywinkle said. "Adjusting to this new life is incredibility difficult."
Information from: The (Jacksonville) Florida Times-Union, http://www.jacksonville.com