A neuropsychologist has testified that the man who was convicted of abducting, raping and murdering an 8-year-old girl from Florida is a psychopath.
In June 2013, Donald James Smith met Rayne Perrywinkle and her three daughters in a Dollar General store. He told Perrywinkle that his wife had an extra $100 Walmart gift card and he would buy them clothes if they accompanied him to the store. At some point on that trip, Smith left the store with Perrywinkle’s 8-year-old daughter, Cherish.
Cherish’s half-naked body was found in a nearby creek the next day. Smith’s DNA was all over her body. The medical examiner would testify that Cherish sustained severe injury from being raped and strangled.
It took the jury just 14 minutes to convict Smith of murder, kidnapping, and sexual battery.
In the penalty phase of the trial, both defense and prosecution presented expert witnesses to opine on Smith’s mental state to determine whether Smith should face the death penalty or life in prison.
Dr. Joseph Sesta, an expert witness in neuropsychology and the Sexually Violent Predator Program in Florida opined that Smith is a psychopath, “meaning he’s at a high threshold of both committing bad acts and being a bad person, which manifests through personality traits like a lack of empathy, remorse, and compassion.” Dr. Sesta said, “So, Mr. Smith, he’s stepping on the gas. He has his left hemisphere works fine. But the brakes don’t work well, and therefore, things like anger, aggression, sexuality . . . in order for us to all live together in harmony, we have to be able to put the brakes on behaviors that aren’t socially appropriate. Mr. Smith has deficits in the parts of his brain that help him to brake or control behavior.”
Dr. Sesta spent over five hours with Smith, during which he conducted brain scans. Sesta says that those brain scans validated his assessment of Smith. While other experts have testified that Smith is mentally ill, Sesta believes that Smith was faking symptoms of mental disorders. Sesta pointed out that Smith said that he had previously tried to obtain a copy of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Sesta said, “If you were trying to fake a disorder, this would be your Bible to guide you to what symptoms you should produce.”
Other Expert Testimony
Dr. Geoff Coline, an expert in forensic neurology testified that Donald Smith had abnormally small and large portions of his brain and that it was clinically probable that Smith was suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), or brain trauma.
Dr. Heather Holmes, a forensic psychologist who specializes in sex offender evaluation and treatment within an incarceration setting, diagnosed Smith with personality disorders including major depressive disorder, severe cocaine use disorder, antisocial personality, borderline personality and pedophilic disorders.
Dr. Daniel Buffington, a clinical pharmacologist, testified that the combination of Smith’s chronic substance abuse, psychiatric disorders, and psychiatric medication would have impaired Smith “to the degree that his normal judgement, skills, and ability were profoundly diminished.”
Jurors deliberated for only two hours before deciding that the death penalty should be imposed on Smith. The jury verdict authorizes a death sentence, but the judge has final authority to determine whether Smith should be sentence to execution. The judge will make that decision after hearing final evidence in mitigation of the sentence.