Briles family finds peace in murder conviction of Delmer Smith

ejohnson@bradenton.comAugust 11, 2012 

PALMETTO -- In the shade of trees surrounding his wife's grave, Dr. James Briles spoke out for the first time Friday morning about the conviction of Delmer Smith.

"It was what I expected and what Kathy deserved," said Dr. Briles, who stood among family. "I was a bit numb. What I was really doing is watching Delmer Smith, who had no emotion whatsoever."

Smith was found guilty of first-degree murder Thursday afternoon in the Aug. 3, 2009 slaying of Dr. Briles' wife, Kathleen.

Dr. Briles found his wife's body three years ago, bound and bludgeoned to death by an antique sewing machine, in their living room after arriving home from work.

"It brings some peace," Dr. Briles said. "I'm glad my wife got the justice she deserves."

After the verdict was read Thursday afternoon, Dr. Briles said the family visited his wife's grave at Skyway Memorial Gardens, not too far from their Terra Ceia home.

"I cried my eyes out until I was dry," he said.

The family will hang on to the happy memories, Dr. Briles said, adding that the children laugh and joke when reminiscing about their mother.

Dr. Briles thanked Assistant State Attorneys Brian Iten and Suzanne O'Donnell, who prosecuted the case, for their passion and compassion.

"They gave a voice to my wife, Kathleen, and it was heard," he said.

The Palmetto physician also thanked the jury, community, colleagues, patients and law enforcement officers.

"We've never felt alone in this entire process because of all the support we've had," Dr. Briles said.

Thomas Venema, who is married to Briles' daughter, Kristen, said he remembers Kathleen driving by their house, hanging her head out of the window and waving.

"I heard 'Guilty' from the time they said the jury was coming down with the verdict," Venema said.

He went on to say he is happy to spend the rest of his life with "Kathy's daughter," who he said is very much like her mother.

Judy Moore, one of Kathleen's four sisters who were at the gravesite, said she loves and misses her sister.

"There's a hole in my heart," Moore said. "I can't imagine what's in Jim's and the kids'. But I'm glad we can move on."

An emotional Moore sat on a bench in front of her sister's grave, patting her eyes with a tissue.

Dr. Briles remembered his wife as an energetic woman with a great spirit who was always willing to help others.

"I just miss her. She had a great smile and laugh," he said. "Her spirit is still there."

Dr. Briles said his family, patients and work give him the strength to go on. He smiled, noting that his wife left behind cats and a dog who needed him. A tombstone near her grave is marked with "Briles", a portrait of the family and pictures of Kathleen's cats.

The family hugged and talked, snapping pictures of a playful 6-month-old Mason Briles.

"From the beginning we've said you go crazy or move on," Venema said, noting he and his wife have started a new business. Briles' son, Calvin, has finished medical school and is engaged. Curtis Briles, the youngest child, has been deployed to Iraq, joined the Manatee County Sheriff's Office as a deputy and is married with a son.

While Smith's conviction has helped the family find peace in their grieving process, the Briles family is aware that the process is not over. Court will reconvene Tuesday for the penalty phase of the trial, in which Smith will be sentenced to death by lethal injection or to life in prison.

"Based on my experience and what I know, the death penalty is appropriate," Dr. Briles said.

Smith is already serving a life sentence for a violent home invasion in Sarasota County, and he has been charged or is the prime suspect in several other attacks in Manatee and Sarasota counties.

"Even though yesterday's verdict was a victory for Kathleen, I'd like to have them consider this as a victory for them as well," Dr. Briles said for the other victims, many of whom were in the courtroom this week. "I'd like to have them get some peace."

Elizabeth Johnson, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041.

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