Attorneys to give closing arguments in Delmer Smith murder trial

ejohnson@bradenton.comAugust 9, 2012 

BRADENTON -- The prosecution and defense will give closing arguments today after resting Wednesday in the Delmer Smith III murder trial. The defendant did not testify in the trial.

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

Smith had presented his attorneys with the name of a witness, leading Dubensky to question the lack of testimony. The attorneys said they and the defendant later decided against calling the person to testify.

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

Dubensky plans to sequester the jury if it does not reach a verdict today.

Smith, 41, is charged with bludgeoning Kathleen Briles to death with an antique sewing machine Aug. 3, 2009. If convicted of first-degree murder, he could be sentenced to die by lethal injection.

In testimony Wednesday, James Cellecz, who was con

victed of pawning items stolen from Briles' home, denied walking into a Terra Ceia home Aug. 3, 2009 and killing Kathleen Briles.

But Daniel Hernandez, Smith's defense attorney, had Cellecz show he could lift the 23-pound antique sewing machine, used to kill Briles, above his head.

Smith, wearing a gray button-up shirt and dress pants, sat throughout the testimony staring ahead or at witnesses on the stand.

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.

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 fingerprints were not found on the book. A print belonging to Smith was identified.

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 a lock box from Cellecz found holding items from the Briles' home within a duffel bag taken into evidence, he testified.

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

Hernandez 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.

Inmate shares Smith's threats

In earlier testimony, a jail inmate testified to threats he said Smith made toward 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, indicating they lived in the same cell block. "He told me to tell him that he 'had something for his (expletive).'"

Hull said Smith also threatened Cellecz's wife and child by name.

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, Manatee Sheriff's Detective Ned Foy talked with him regarding the Briles' investigation, he said.

When cross-examined by Hernandez, Hull said his requests for compensation in return for his testimony were denied.

Hernandez referenced a letter sent from Hull to the State Attorney's Office in which he wrote "my testimony coupled with Mr. Cellecz's testimony" would present an obstacle for the defense. Hull said that statement did not mean 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 sentencing guideline of 100 months. Cellecz received one year in prison.

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

Phone records place Smith near Briles

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

Using a GPS program, Diamond said he was able to plot connections made through Smith's MetroPCS phone 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 near his North Port home to within 1.25 miles of the Briles' home and then back to his home in that time period.

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

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.

With the exception of one of Smith's girlfriends, witnesses denied recognizing Cellecz. The girlfriend said she met Cellecz through Smith, but never spoke with him on the phone.

Closing statements begin at 8:30 a.m. If convicted of first-degree murder, the trial will move next week into a penalty phase.

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

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