Jury unanimously recommends death penalty for Smith

ejohnson@bradenton.comAugust 15, 2012 

BRADENTON -- It took a jury just 30 minutes Tuesday afternoon to deliver a unanimous recommendation: Delmer Smith III, 41, should be sentenced to death by lethal injection for the fatal Aug. 3, 2009 bludgeoning of Kathleen Briles.

Those same 12 people -- six men and six women -- delivered a unanimous verdict after a couple of hours of deliberation last week convicting Smith of first-degree murder.

Dr. James Briles, who found his wife's dead body in their Terra Ceia living room, thanked the jury for their decision.

"Delmer Smith got what he deserved," Dr. Briles said

Tuesday.

If anyone has second thoughts about Smith's conviction, Dr. Briles added, they should talk to surviving victims, talk to the medical examiner who conducted his wife's autopsy, look at crime scene photos -- or talk to him, because there is "a movie that keeps replaying in my head I'd be happy to share."

Because Smith has been in and out of jail for most of his life, Dr. Briles said being a part of the general jail population is not punishment, but a lifestyle for the man who beat his wife repeatedly with a sewing machine.

Judge Peter Dubensky expects to make the final ruling during a sentencing hearing in two months. If Dubensky upholds the jury's advisory punishment, Smith would become the third person convicted in Manatee County on Death Row.

"He may outlive me, which wouldn't surprise me," Dr. Briles said. "It's justice for Kathleen. That makes me happy, but it's bittersweet."

Dr. Briles, his three children and other family and friends sat quietly as the decision was read, silently crying. Some placed their hands over their mouths. Others held hands with those nearby.

Smith stared blankly ahead as the jury's decision was read, just like he did when he was convicted of murder.

"There's not one iota of remorse," Dr. Briles said. "The only thing I've seen emotionally from Delmer Smith is anger."

The family stood in a line, keeping their eyes on a shackled Smith as he was led from the courtroom.

Dr. Briles said he hopes the conviction of Smith and a possible death sentence brings peace to other victims in Manatee and Sarasota counties of the man suspected in several home invasions, sexual assaults and another homicide.

Dr. Briles also thanked Dubensky, prosecutors and defense attorneys for upholding the justice system.

Daniel Hernandez and Bjorn Brunvand gave limited comments following the proceedings, saying, "We did the best we could with what we had."

Prosecutors Brian Iten and Suzanne O'Donnell responded via email.

"We are grateful for the hard work of the jury, the investigators, the staff of the State Attorney's Office. Most importantly we are relieved for the Briles family, which has persevered through an unspeakable tragedy."

Surviving victim, family testify

After four days of jury selection and four days of the guilt phase ending in Smith's conviction, the trial moved into the penalty phase.

Witnesses testified Tuesday as the state and defense presented evidence to support the death penalty or life in prison, respectively.

The state called another victim of Smith's to testify Tuesday.

Nicole Mitchell was watching "CSI" and making jewelry in her living room March 14, 2009 in a Sarasota rental home, when she felt a presence.

"When I turned around, I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me," Mitchell testified. "It was extremely quick. The lights went off right away. I was grabbed and I was pushed onto the couch face down. Of course I started screaming. The person grabbed my mouth and asked me to stop screaming and said if I didn't cooperate, he said, 'I have a gun. I will kill you.'"

Mitchell said Smith led her through the home, threatening her with a gun while looking for valuables.

"I was shaking. I was crying. My heart was beating very fast," Mitchell said, recalling thanking Smith for his kindness. "You don't want to die and you don't want to get hurt, so I was really cooperating."

Mitchell said she was forced back into the living room and told to lie on her stomach. Smith took a television set from the wall and bound her using electrical cords. Mitchell said her wrists were tied behind her back. Smith tied her ankles and connected them to a cord around her neck so "if I moved my legs, I would strangle myself."

Smith ransacked the house, she said. Mitchell was able to free her right arm from the cords and untie the rest of the bonds.

Smith was convicted of armed home invasion and kidnapping in the case earlier this year and sentenced to life in prison.

The state also called Robert Feverston, Manatee County Sheriff latent print examiner, and Gerri Cotter, U.S. probation officer to show Smith was already a convicted felon and on probation for two bank robberies.

Also called to the stand were Diane Brinker, Briles' sister, and Dr. Briles, to read prepared victim impact statements.

"I have lost my security, my best friend and my sister," Brinker said, adding that she has watched many of her sister's dreams come true, including the birth of her first grandson.

Dr. James Briles recalled falling in love with Kathleen Briles under a blue moon Dec. 31, 1990.

"The biggest tragedy here is that her three children will never be able to share their lives with their mother again," he said.

Dr. Briles said he and his wife made it through the good and bad because of their partnership.

"My heart is broken. My love is lost. And these are not recoverable," he said.

Defense shows other side

The defense called Smith's two nieces and a neuropsychologist to show a different side of Smith and possible mental mitigating factors.

Alicia Phillips, 29, recalled living with her grandparents -- Smith's parents -- in Michigan.

"He was my favorite uncle," Phillips said. "He gave me birthday presents, Christmas presents. He would take me out. He would try to guide me in the right direction."

When Smith was in prison, Phillips wrote to him, talked to him on the phone and visited him.

Phillips said she loves Smith and he is in her prayers.

Christina Smith, 23, was emotional on the stand.

"I was too young to know he had gone to prison. I just knew he was away from us," Smith said, adding that she realized he was incarcerated when they began talking on the phone and writing letters. "It made me love him harder because I knew he needed love.

"I understand what their family is going through, but I don't think it's right for him to be away from us either," Smith said, referencing the Briles family.

Dr. Hyman Eisenstein, a neuropsychologist who evaluated Smith in July, shared his findings.

Eisenstein said previous psychological evaluations showed Smith had academic failings, having to repeat second, third, fourth and fifth grades. Eisenstein said Smith's attention deficit disorder went untreated. He also said there was documentation in evaluations that Smith suffered abuse.

"He wants to appear normal," Eisenstein said. "He seems to think that talking about some of his impairments makes him less of a person. He only wants to look at his strengths."

Eisenstein diagnosed Smith with profound, unequivocal brain damage and intermittent explosive disorder.

"The planning of the robbery was certainly impulsive," he said. "It's my best hypothesis that when confronted with the situation, his reaction was one of shock. Rather than leaving the situation, he further got himself in more trouble with the inability to step away from a bad situation."

The state's psychiatrist, Dr. Wade Myers, disagreed. He said Smith has no brain damage, but does suffer from anti-social personality disorder.

"He had, to my understanding, a bound helpless female victim lying on the floor and he made the decision to go get something to kill her with," Myers said.

In her closing statement, prosecutor Suzanne O'Donnell said evidence presented throughout the trial proves factors in the case justify the death penalty.

"Many people have abuse in their background, have academic troubles, have failing grades and they don't go and kill human beings," O'Donnell said. "It's not something that these people are predisposed to do. It's something the defendant chose to do."

Smith's defense attorney Bjorn Brunvand argued that Smith could help others if allowed to die of natural causes in prison.

"Despite the things that you have seen, the things he has done, there is another side of Delmer Smith - a human side," Brunvand said. "He may once again contribute to other human beings. He may once again guide someone in the right direction."

Brunvand also said findings from Eisenstein's evaluation show Smith did not have the capacity to understand his actions.

"Murders are bad, but this is not one so far out of the norm that the death penalty is appropriate," Brunvand closed.

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

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