Prosecution, defense rest in Delmer Smith III murder trial

ejohnson@bradenton.comAugust 8, 2012 

BRADENTON -- The prosecution and defense have rested in the Delmer Smith III murder trial. The defendant did not testify.

In fact, the defense, which recommended to Smith that he not testify, did not put any witnesses on the stand, after Judge Peter Dubensky denied a request that he order an acquittal.

Late Wednesday afternoon, Dubensky and attorneys were reviewing instructions that will be given to the jury before they start their deliberations Thursday after lawyers make their closing arguments.

Dubensky said he will sequester the jury if it does not reach a verdict Thursday.

Smith is charged with bludgeoning Kathleen Briles to death with an antique sewing machine on Aug. 3, 2009. If convicted of first-degree murder, he could be sentenced to die by lethal injection.

In testimony Wednesday, James Cellecz described how he came to pawn items stolen from Briles' home, a crime for which he was convicted.

Cellecz testified that on the day after the slaying he and Smith were running errands and ended up at a pawn shop.

“Delmer had said he forgot his ID and asked me to pawn the jewelry items,” Cellecz said, adding that Smith accompanied him inside the shop and approved the amount offered by the worker.

Cellecz said Smith mentioned getting the jewelry from an acquaintance for $100.

Kristen Venema, Briles’ daughter, became emotional on the stand as she identified one of the pawned items as a necklace belonging to her mother. Venema said she wore the necklace to a prom, and Briles wore the necklace to Venema’s wedding in 2009, she said.

While inside Smith’s Chevrolet Blazer, Cellecz said he saw a blue medical encyclopedia, also stolen from the Briles’ home, in the floor board. A latent print examiner said Tuesday that Cellecz’s prints were not found on the book.

Cellecz, who became acquainted with Smith after selling him a television and repairing his girlfriend’s computer in 2009, said the two would sell and trade items. Smith bought from Cellecz a lockbox found holding items from the Briles’ home within a duffel bag taken into evidence, , he said.

Cellecz also testified to seeing on several occasions a “backpack he (Smith) carried around he kept some items in – duct tape, gloves, ski mask.”

Daniel Hernandez, Smith’s defense attorney, asked Cellecz several questions regarding his purported involvement in the slaying of Briles.

“I was not being considered a suspect because I was not involved,” Cellecz said.

In earlier testimony, a jail inmate testified to threats he said Smith made towards Cellecz.

Joshua Hull and Smith found themselves sitting near each other in a Manatee County jail inmate transport van in April 2010, Hull testified Wednesday.

Hull, who is serving a five-year sentence at a Miami facility, said he joined a conversation about motorcycles with Smith and another inmate. As the conversation continued, Smith asked Hull where he was staying at the jail.

“He asked if I knew an inmate, James Cellecz,” Hull said, after he indicated they lived in the same cell block. “He told me to tell him that he ‘had something for his (expletive).’”

Hull said Smith also mentioned Cellecz’s wife and child by name, saying “I have something for them.”

In his testimony, Hull said Smith mentioned he had given Cellecz property to pawn and Cellecz was “snitching” on him.

As soon as Hull returned to the jail, he testified that he went directly to Cellecz who needed “to take appropriate action to protect his butt.”

Later that evening, Hull said he was approached by a sergeant about the situation. A few days later, Detective Ned Foy talked with him regarding the Briles investigation, he said.

Hull said observation cameras on the transport bus made him nervous.

“I was concerned because someone was having me communicate a threat to someone else, and I’m looking at the camera hoping this thing doesn’t have audio,” Hull testified.

When cross-examined by Hernandez, Smith’s defense attorney, Hull said he did present options to the State Attorney’s Office for compensation for his testimony. However, requests to have his sentence shortened or a facility transfer were denied.

Hernandez referenced a letter sent from Hull to the State Attorney’s Office in which he wrote “my testimony couple with Mr. Cellecz’s testimony” would present an obstacle for the defense. Hull said that statement was not to be interpreted that he and Cellecz discussed testifying in unison.

During Cellecz’s cross-examination, Hernandez referred to the same topic. Hernandez stated that Cellecz was found in violation of his federal parole with a minimum sentencting guidline of 100 months. Cellecz received one year in prision.

“I was not promised anything for my testifying,” Cellecz said. “I was told flat out I would receive nothing for my testimony.”

Other evidence presented by the prosecution Wednesday morning included Smith’s cell phone records.

Manatee County Sheriff’s Detective Jerome Diamond, who processed Smith’s cell phone records after the slaying, testified that records showed Smith’s phone in the vicinity of the Briles’ home the day of the killing.

Diamond first explained how cell phones work, how information is stored on phone memory cards and how cell phones obtain signal from towers even when mobile.

Using Microsoft Streets and Trips – a GPS program – Diamond said he was able to plot connections made through Smith’s MetroPCS phone from that day.

Diamond went through phone calls made to and from Smith’s phone from 1:16 p.m. to 6:24 p.m. on Aug. 3, 2009. The map showed the phone connecting to towers from near his North Port home to within 1.25 miles of the Briles’ home and then back to his home.

A phone call from Kimberly Osborne, a former girlfriend of Smith, to the defendant was unanswered about 3:44 p.m. on the day of Briles’ death. Smith returned the call later that night, records showed.

Others who showed on Smith’s phone records were called to the stand. Most of the witnesses knew Smith as “Dee,” through their shared interests in motorcycles.

Witnesses did not specifically remember the phone calls in questions, but most did recall sharing phone numbers or phone calls with Smith.

Witnesses also denied recognizing Cellecz.

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