Next court hearing set for convicted killer Delmer Smith

ejohnson@bradenton.comSeptember 4, 2012 

MANATEE -- A hearing for convicted murderer Delmer Smith III, in which his attorneys will again try to save his life, has been scheduled for Sept. 27.

Smith, 41, was found guilty by a jury Aug. 9 in the Aug. 3, 2009, slaying of Terra Ceia's Kathleen Briles. Less than a week later, those six men and six women made another unanimous decision, recommending a punishment of death by lethal injection.

Judge Peter Dubensky will weigh the jury's opinion as he makes the final decision, sentencing Smith to life in prison without parole or death. Dubensky said Aug. 14 that he hoped to render a sentence in about two months.

But before Dubensky determines the man's fate, Smith is entitled to a Spencer hearing. According to a Florida Supreme Court decision in the 1993 case of Spencer v. State, capital cases require a hearing prior to a judge rendering a sentence "to give the defendant, his counsel, and the state the opportunity to be heard."

Both the defense and prosecution are allowed to present new evidence and "comment on or rebut information in any presentence or medical report."

Smith's attorneys will argue for a life sentence, while the state will continue to push for the death penalty.

Defense attorney Bjorn Brunvand argued before the jury delivered its recommendation that Smith would die in prison regardless of the circumstance, but if kept off of Death Row he could positively influence others.

The defense called two of Smith's nieces to the stand who testified that despite their uncle being

incarcerated for much of his life, he encouraged them to become productive members of society.

Prosecutors argued when Smith attacked Kathleen Briles, bound and gagged her and bludgeoned her to death with a cast-iron sewing machine, he committed a heinous and pre-meditated crime.

Briles' family members have previously said being in the general jail population is a lifestyle, rather than a punishment, for Smith.

Smith can also address the judge. He has yet to testify in the courtroom, but he has expressed discontent with his attorneys.

If Dubensky upholds the jury's recommendation, Smith would become the third person convicted in Manatee County on Death Row.

Appeals are expected as in most capital cases.

Smith is already serving a life sentence for a home invasion and kidnapping in Sarasota County. He also faces charges in another Manatee County home invasion. Smith is suspected in other crimes, including the slaying of Sarasota's Georgeann Smith, committed over several months in 2009 in the adjacent counties.

Two hours have been set aside for the hearing, beginning at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 27.

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

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