Crime

No Bail for Registered Sex Offender Charged in Murder of 8-Year-Old Florida Girl; He Befriended Victim and Mother at a Dollar Store Just Hours Earlier

"They appeared to be down on their luck and he could help them out."

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (TheBlaze/AP) -- A judge has denied bail to a registered sex offender accused of abducting and killing an 8-year-old Florida girl.

Donald James Smith was charged Saturday with murder and kidnapping in the death of Cherish Perrywinkle. Authorities say Smith befriended Cherish and her mother while they shopped Friday night.

This combination of photos provided by the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office on Saturday, June 22, 2013 shows a police booking photo of Donald James Smith and an image of him from cameras in the Walmart Supercenter store where 8-year-old Cherish Lily Perrywinkle, who was shopping with her mother, went missing Friday evening. The registered sex offender was charged with murder after the girl's body was found Saturday morning. (Credit: AP)

Smith's attorney, Fred Gazaleh, told The Florida Times-Union before the hearing that Smith didn't have a chance of getting bail.

Smith of Jacksonville was taken into custody after police cornered his white van on Interstate 95, said Mike Williams, director of investigations at the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.

This family photo via the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office shows 8-year-old Cherish Lily Perrywinkle. Authorities said she was was abducted Friday night, June 21, 2013 while shopping with her mother a Walmart Supercenter in Jacksonville, Fla. Her body was found at a church Saturday morning, June 22, 2013. (Credit: AP)

Authorities had put out an Amber Alert with details of Smith's van early Saturday, hours after receiving a 911 call from Cherish Perrywinkle's mother about the missing girl.

Prior to the alleged abduction Friday night, Smith, 56, befriended Cherish and her mother at a dollar store, and "offered to take them to Wal-Mart and buy her family some clothes," Williams said.

"They appeared to be down on their luck and he could help them out."

After spending a couple hours inside the Wal-Mart together, Smith offered to buy hamburgers and walked with Cherish to the front of the store, Williams said.

Instead of stopping to buy the snack, Smith walked Cherish outside and the two of them got into his van, Williams said.

The girl's mother called 911 when she realized Cherish and Smith were missing. An Amber Alert was issued, and a tip about a suspicious van spotted in the woods near a church led investigators to Cherish's body Saturday morning.

Meanwhile, an officer working at the scene of a traffic crash on Interstate 95 on Saturday morning recognized Smith's van as it drove past her and called it in.

The highway was shut down while other officers pulled Smith over and arrested him. He has not cooperated with investigators, Williams said, and it was not immediately known whether he had an attorney.

This photo provided by the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office shows a van believed to belong to abduction suspect Donald James Smith. Smith, a registered sex offender recently released from jail was charged Saturday, June 22, 2013 with murder in the death of Cherish Perrywinkle an 8-year-old Florida girl abducted while shopping with her mother. (Credit: AP)

Williams declined to answer reporters' questions about how Cherish died or what Smith did in the hours between his disappearance with the girl and his arrest, saying that the investigation remains open.

Police gather at the Highlands Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla. on Saturday, June 22, 2013 where authorities said the body of 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle was found. An Amber Alert was issued after she went missing Friday night, but authorities began a murder investigation after her body was found at the church. (Credit: AP)

Smith has been a registered sex offender since a 1993 conviction in Duval County for attempted kidnapping and selling obscene materials. He has been arrested several times since then, most recently in 2009 on a charge of child abuse after making obscene phone calls to a 10-year-old girl, making verbal threats, and impersonating a social worker with the Florida Department of Children and Families who claimed to be investigating the girl's family.

Smith pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges in that case and was released from jail May 31.

Williams said Smith had just met with police Friday morning to comply with a state law that requires sex offenders to verify their address once a year.

In a highly publicized case in 2009, a 7-year-old northeast Florida girl was abducted while she walked home from school. Police later found Somer Thompson's body in a Georgia landfill. A man who lived with his parents in Somer's Orange Park neighborhood pleaded guilty in 2012 to kidnapping, raping and murdering the girl and was sentenced to life in prison.

Somer's mother was quoted by The Florida Times-Union as saying that she was sickened by the news of Cherish's abduction.

"Her (Cherish's mother) nightmare has just begun," Diena Thompson said.

The following is a news report on the investigation via Newsy:

Here's a report about a related incident involving Smith from WAWS-TV:

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