Smith's ex-girlfriends testify at trial; verdict expected this week

ejohnson@bradenton.comAugust 8, 2012 

BRADENTON -- Two former girlfriends of Delmer Smith III, who is charged with first-degree murder in the 2009 slaying of Kathleen Briles, were among those who testified Tuesday in courtroom 5-A at the Manatee County Judicial Center before the state ran out of witnesses.

Judge Peter Dubensky said the case is on track to be handed over to the jury for deliberation sometime Thursday. If that happens and the jury convicts Smith of first-degree murder, the penalty phase would be Tuesday and Wednesday of next week, Dubensky said.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Martha Tejeda, who said she and Smith were more than friends but never dated, was one of the first people called Tuesday morning to the stand. Tejeda testified through an interpreter how Smith instructed her to retrieve from storage a duffel bag that contained items investigators say belonged to Briles, who was beaten to death Aug. 3, 2009.

In her testimony, Tejeda said she met the defendant, who she knew as "Dee," about four months before he was charged with murder. She lived several houses down from Smith, who was staying with Michele Quinones in North Port.

Tejeda testified that in calls from Smith, who was in the Sarasota County jail, he asked her to get a duffel bag "from storage." Tejeda said she retrieved the bag, which contained a lock box, and put it in her attic.

During phone calls played after Tejeda left the stand, the two were heard sharing "I love yous," but Smith

voiced concern that Tejeda would not help him.

"You have second thoughts about us," Smith asked. "You said you don't feel good about this."

In those phone calls, Smith gives Tejeda directions to the storage unit and explains how to get inside.

"It's very important you get the big red and white bag," Smith says in one of the calls.

Tejeda's son could be heard translating the bag's description.

In another call, Smith tells Tejeda, "If you don't hear from me, you go up to the storage and take every last one of the bags out of there."

Tejeda also brought a red Hyundai that belonged to Smith to her property. Police took the car for processing.

Tejeda tells Smith in another call that she has taken the bags to her house. Tejeda speaks quickly as she tells Smith police came to her home, asking about Smith.

"You haven't done nothing wrong," Smith said, asking Tejeda to calm down. "You never got nothing out of my storage. You don't know nothing about that, right?"

Tejeda said she did not give police the duffel bag at first because she was "frightened."

"When I went to give a statement that night, the police explained to me what was happening. I went to work and then I asked the manager," the interpreter translated. "I only told her I was frightened and what was going on."

Tejeda said at that point she had decided to turn over the duffel bag and its contents.

Jessica Jarecki and Jessica Hendrickson, who worked as crime scene technicians for the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office in 2009, testified to contents found in those duffel bags.

Items found inside a lock box in the bag included a coin set, a Minnie Mouse key chain with keys, a golden padlock key chain and a watch, Jarecki said.

Quinones, who began dating Smith in October 2008 and lived with him from November 2008 to August 2009, testified that Smith gave her a Minnie Mouse key chain and a woman's watch from a his-and-her set.

"Once he purchased the Blazer, he needed a copy of keys for me and he gave me a copy with that key chain on it," Quinones said, identifying the pewter Disney key chain Dr. James Briles had given his wife for a wedding anniversary.

Armenouhi Comstock, owner of Armik's Fine Collectibles, testified that the Minnie Mouse pewter key chain entered into evidence was like one she sent to Dr. James Briles in May 2009. Comstock said she sent the key chain, which was discontinued in 2000, to Briles as a gift with a $475 purchase.

Mary Wanser, who "considered Kathleen to be my best friend," said she was with Briles when she received the watch set as a gift from a car dealership in July 2009. Wanser identified the watch set, entered into evidence, as appearing "to be very much like the watches I saw."

Quinones also gave Sarasota Police a black jacket belonging to Smith along with the woman's watch, cell phone and another key chain.

In her testimony, Quinones said during 2009 she found a backpack in her garage. Inside was a roll of silver duct tape, black hooded sweatshirt, black ski mask and tools including pencils, screwdrivers and pliers, she said.

"I didn't think anything about it at the time," Quinones said, adding Smith took the backpack and its contents when he moved out in August 2009.

When asked by Smith's attorney, Daniel Hernandez, if Quinones knew James Cellecz, she said he and Smith would sometimes barter property.

Cellecz was convicted for pawning items stolen -- specifically a necklace identified by the victim's daughter -- from the Briles' home that were allegedly given to him by Smith.

Evidence mounts

Ned Foy, who was transferred to the Manatee County Sheriff's homicide unit in August 2009, testified to verifying through the Briles' family that the medical encyclopedia, Minnie Mouse and padlock key chains, woman's watch, coin set and necklace were owned by the victim.

Foy said keys on the Minnie Mouse key chain were compatible with a tan Chevrolet Blazer owned by Smith in 2009.

"I used a set of keys, the same keys that are on the Mickey Mouse key chain and I opened the locks of the tan Blazer and started the ignition of the vehicle," Foy testified.

Stanley Grubbs, owner of A True Lock Service in North Port, said he cut keys for Smith, including those to the Blazer.

Istvan Szechenyi, owner of Roadkill Auto Inc., a used car lot in Bradenton, testified that Smith bought the tan Blazer before trading it for a red Hyundai at the end of August 2009.

Robert Feverston, a latent print examiner for the sheriff's office, said a print lifted from the medical encyclopedia matched Smith's left index finger.

Calvin Briles, the victim's eldest son, said in 2007 he borrowed the medical encyclopedia among other books from his parents. Briles, who returned the books in May 2009, is now a physician in Gainesville. He identified the medical encyclopedia, entered into evidence, as showing the same signs of damage as other books he borrowed because they sat on a shelf and the "book covers kind of skewed."

Hernandez, asked Feverston if Cellecz's prints, were tested.

"I did have known finger prints of James Cellecz," said Feverston, who added they did not match any prints lifted.

Dubensky pointed out early in the day that neither Kathleen Briles', nor Delmer Smith's DNA were found on items processed in the case.

Testimony in the case is set to resume at 8:30 a.m. today.

Elizabeth Johnson, Herald crime reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041. Follow her on Twitter @EJohnsonBHcrime.

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