MANATEE — Sarasota officials believe four of their cases against accused home invasion and rape suspect Delmer Smith III are solid because of his DNA found at crime scenes. Now prosecutors and law enforcement will be meeting on whether cases can be made in other similar attacks Smith may have committed.
But unless more hard evidence such as DNA turns up in the cases, it might prove difficult to prosecute Smith for home invasions in Manatee County.
Florida law does allow prosecutors to bring charges in crimes by comparing them in court to the cases in which DNA has been recovered. But the similarities between the cases have to be so apparent that they are almost identical, according to Stetson University College of Law professor Robert Batey.
“It is a pretty difficult standard to meet,” he said. “Entering other crimes into evidence is so prejudicial to a jury that, unless there is a high degree of similarity, it can be very difficult.”
It can and has been done, however, says former FBI profiler Mark Safarik. He has testified in court in serial cases in which some crime scenes produced DNA, while others believed to have been committed by the same person did not.
The key, says Safarik, is to focus on any trends a suspect employs for gratification or ritual that might be the same across cases.
“The biggest indicators are rituals done at the scene, which are not done in order for the suspect to conceal identity or escape,” Safarik said. “Instead, you look for things that are done because they are need-driven rituals for the person.”
As meetings take place on the remaining open cases, officials still hope evidence will surface in those where no arrest has been made.
Smith faces numerous charges of armed home invasion, false imprisonment and sexual battery in four Sarasota County cases. Authorities in Sarasota and Manatee believe he might have committed as many as seven other similar attacks, including one in which a Sarasota woman was killed. Smith also has not been ruled out as a suspect in the slaying of Kathleen Briles in her Terra Ceia home Aug. 3.
Prosecutors and law enforcement believe they might find enough similarities to charge Smith in more of these attacks.
Authorities have said the victims in the attacks were mostly older women who were bound in a similar way, often with electrical cords.
“We are going to consider similarities with Sarasota cases to see if there is any connection to our cases,” said Ed Brodsky, assistant state attorney with the state attorney’s office in Manatee.
Investigators say Smith may have committed at least two home invasion attacks in which victims were beaten in unincorporated Manatee, and two more in the City of Bradenton.
Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight said detectives are examining items they believe Smith stole during the invasions.
Several laptop computers, found in the home where Smith’s pregnant girlfriend was staying, have already been identified as stolen from homes of victims in the four home invasion attacks for which Smith has been charged.
During the monthslong investigation, conducted by a joint task force including the sheriff’s offices in Sarasota and Manatee, and the police departments in Bradenton and Sarasota, Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube has expressed frustration that no forensic evidence turned up in the Manatee cases.
At a news conference Monday in which Smith’s arrest was announced, Steube said he had hoped to find DNA in Manatee’s crimes to make a stronger case. On Wednesday, he put his hopes in the review of items recovered during Smith’s arrest to see if anything came from homes in Bradenton or unincorporated Manatee.
“We are going to be looking at everything to see if there is a match, because he is definitely a strong suspect for some of these crimes,” Steube said.