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8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle found dead, Donald James Smith in custody

7:25 PM, Jun 22, 2013   |    comments
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Photo Gallery: What happened to Cherish Perrywinkle?
Photo courtesy of Katherine Tsengas

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Officials have confirmed that the body of 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle has been found near Highlands Baptist Church on Broward Road.

Investigators are now transitioning the way they're handling the case.

RELATED: Neighbors react to Smith's arrest

"This is a very trying time for our community and for our agency as we transition from an abduction investigation to a murder investigation. We will attempt to keep everybody updated with as much information as we are able to provide it," police spokesman Shannon Hartley said in a Saturday morning news conference.

Officers arrested the suspect, Donald James Smith, 56, after he was spotted driving a white van on southbound I-95 near the I-10 split, Hartley said.

RELATED: RAW VIDEO: Police surround abduction, murder suspect on highway

Police were contacted around 11 p.m. Friday by a mother who said her daughter had gone missing at the Walmart located at 12100 Lem Turner Road.

JSO Sgt. Lonnie Mills said the child was taken by a man who befriended the mother at the store and said he was taking the girl to the McDonald's located inside the store for a snack.

Police searched the area with helicopters and ground units but did not find the suspect or the girl.

Initial reports from police stated that Smith was driving a white 1998 Dodge van with Florida plates BCBK32. The vehicle had a 2-inch dark color pinstripe down its sides, two large windows on the driver's side, one large window and double doors on the passenger side and double doors on the back.

RELATED: Update: Suspect targeted victim at Dollar General

JSO released additional photos of a vehicle they say may have been associated with this case. Officers said they were hoping someone close to the case would recognize the vehicle, although Hartley acknowledged that the photo was blurry.  At this time details of the make, model, color, etc. of the vehicle are unknown and officers are not saying where the pictures were taken.

Smith is a registered sex offender and was recently released from jail on May 31. Smith has several previous arrests that date as far back as 1977 when Department of Corrections records show he was convicted of indecent assault on a child under the age of 16. 

Prison records also show that Smith went to prison again in 1992 for attempted kidnapping.  Court documents show he was convicted of that charge in addition to two counts of showing obscene material to a minor.

In 2003 prisons records show Smith served time for trafficking in stolen property and giving false information to a pawnbroker.

RELATED: Smith's criminal history

The Duval County Clerk of Courts online records search also documents a March 2012 case where Smith was convicted of attempted child abuse and attempted impersonation of a public employee.  

Jackelyn Barnard, public information officer for the 4th Circuit State Attorney's office, clarified that the case was actually from 2009, but said Smith was convicted in 2012.  Because Smith had already served 240 days in jail prior to his conviction he was released on May 31, 2013.

Smith is set to appear in court at 9 a.m. Sunday morning. 

If you would like to be notified when a sex offender move to your neighborhood, sign up for the Florida Offender Alert System here

First Coast News

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