Mannix About Manatee: Heavy task for jurors in Delmer Smith trial

August 5, 2012 

Presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Fair and impartial.

Beyond a reasonable doubt.

Those are among the key phrases that are going to weigh heavily on the jurors selected for the Delmer Smith III murder trial that begins Monday at the Manatee County Judicial Center.

They must render judgment on a man who has remained a sinister specter in the community's consciousness for the past three years.

The shaved head.

The scowl.

The history of violence.

Twelve Manatee County residents must look beyond Smith's severe countenance for the truth as he goes on trial for his life over the brutal slaying of Kathleen Briles at her family's home just off Terra Ceia Bay on Aug. 3, 2009.

That was three years ago last Friday.

Smith is accused of bludgeoning her to death with an antique sewing machine.

It was a killing that culminated a dozen home invasions divided between Sarasota and Manatee counties, a series of crimes that kept both communities on edgeover a seven-month period.

Smith was the primary suspect in several ofthem.

Last December a Sarasota jury found him guilty in a trial for one home invasion where he tied up a woman and ransacked the house.

He was sentenced to life without parole.

Smith will eventually go to trial for an armed home invasion in Manatee County, where he allegedly bound and gagged a married couple.

On Monday, though, his much-anticipated murder trial will commence in Courtroom 5A.

It has been a long wait for the Briles family to see justice done.

The trial is expected to last at least two weeks -- a long and drawn-out two weeks during which jurors will decide if Smith is guilty and, if so, whether he deserves to live or die.

A daunting duty.

It took the court four intensive days of questioning 190 potential jurors to finally get 12 unbiased men and woman and three alternates.

Given the case's high profile, Smith's notoriety and the pre-trial publicity, it's a surprise it didn't take longer.

That 15 people will swear an oath they will be open-minded is admirable.

I don't know whether I could be dispassionate.

Not under these circumstances.

It is going to be compelling to see what happens during the next two weeks.

All eyes will be on those jurors, fellow Manatee County residents, as they carry out their solemn responsibility in Courtroom 5A.

It is a matter of life or death.

Mannix About Manatee, by columnist Vin Mannix, is about people and issues in Manatee County. Call Vin at 941-745-7055. Twitter:@vinmannix.

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