Delmer Smith found guilty in Doctor James Briles' wife's murder case

6:52 PM, Aug 9, 2012   |    comments
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Bradenton, Florida- In less than three hours, a Manatee County Jury returns a guilty verdict in the First Degree Murder case of a Palmetto' doctor's wife. 41-year-old Delmer Smith faces a possible death sentence.

Shortly after the verdict was handed down, Briles' widower, Palmetto doctor James Briles, hugged his family and friends inside the courtroom. Manatee County's Sheriff Brad Steube spoke on behalf of the family. Steube said the family calls the verdict "just."

In August 2009, Dr. James Briles found his wife's bludgeoned body in their home.  48-year-old Kathleen Briles, a mother of three, a college student and animal rescuer, had been gagged, wrists and ankles tied using duct tape and beaten to death with an iron cast sewing machine.

The defense gambled on the state having a weak case.  Delmer Smith did not take the stand in his own defense, nor did his attorneys call any witnesses and they barely cross examined state witnesses. 

"Reasonable doubt" was their defense, but in the end, it was a strategy that did not pay off.

"The defendant is guilty of murder in the first degree," announces the jury's foreman.

It's the decision Briles' widower and his family have waited three years to hear. 

Smith is already serving a life sentence for another home invasion, and the murder conviction means Smith faces a possible death sentence by lethal injection.

Sheriff Steube says, "I think it's a just verdict. This is a predator that has been in our community in the Sarasota community and that predator is now off the street."

"In this case we have evidence upon evidence upon evidence," Suzanne O'Donnell told the jury during her closing arguments. 

State prosecutors reminded jurors of the seven stolen items from Briles' Terra Ceia home. 

She showed the men's and ladies' two tone Geneva watch set. O'Donnell says, "He took a watch off a dead woman's wrist and gave it to his girlfriend."

There is the gold necklace, a coin set, Minnie Mouse pewter key chain and medical encyclopedia book with Smith's fingerprint on it. Deputies found most of these items, also belonging to Briles, in a red and white duffle bag. 

Prosecutors played Smith's jail house phone call where he asked his girlfriend to get rid of the bag in his storage unit. Smith said, "It's very important to get the red and white bag. I need you to get that out of there."

Defense attorney David Hernandez told the jury the state's evidence is circumstantial and all they've proven is Smith had stolen property. 

Hernandez said the prosecutors left reasonable doubt Smith beat Briles on the head with an iron sewing machine. They said, according to the medical examiner, Smith struck Briles in the head with the 23 pound machine at least eight times while she laid on her living room floor gagged, ankles and wrists tied with duct tape.

"There is no forensics evidence linking Smith at the Briles home, no DNA, no fingerprints," says Hernandez. He added, "Knowledge of stolen property does not mean involvement or knowledge of murder."

In the end, the evidence was proof enough for the jury of 12 men and women. O'Donnell  said to the jury, "Today you tell him he has to pay for that crime."

On Tuesday, the jury returns to court to begin the sentencing phase. Smith faces death by lethal injection.  

Smith is already serving life for another home invasion. He is also a suspect in another unsolved murder, two rape cases and several home burglaries.

Isabel Mascarenas

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