SARASOTA — Accused home invasion and rape suspect Delmer Smith III pleaded not guilty Friday morning in Sarasota to a felony battery charge stemming from an Aug. 14 bar fight in Venice.
Smith’s attorney filed a not guilty plea in writing at his client’s arraignment Friday, according to the Sarasota County Clerk’s Office. Smith did not appear.
Venice police arrested Smith after the bar fight in which the victim said Smith attacked him. The victim had requested Smith stop video recording his girlfriend dancing on the bar’s dance floor.
Federal authorities said the bar fight violated Smith’s probation for a 1995 bank robbery conviction, for which he was released in September 2008.
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The federal warrant led Venice police and Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office deputies to a storage bin used by Smith that held property stolen from four violent attacks on women in their homes, including the rape of two of the women.
Smith is also a suspect in an as many as seven more similar home invasion attacks in Sarasota and Manatee counties, including the beating death of a woman in her home.
He has also not been ruled out as a suspect in the killing of Kathleen Briles in her Terra Ceia home, according to Manatee sheriff’s officials.
Sarasota sheriff’s detectives had recovered DNA from four of the crime scenes during the four months the attacks occurred, but did not initially get a match in federal databases.
The FBI later acknowledged the agency had Smith’s DNA throughout the series of attacks, collected while he was in prison, but due to a backlog it had not been entered into the system.
Once Smith’s DNA sample from prison was entered into federal databases, it matched the DNA collected from the home invasion crime scenes, according to Sarasota sheriff’s officials.
Smith has been arrested on several charges of armed home invasion, false imprisonment and sexual battery stemming from the attacks. He has since been sentenced to two years in prison for the probation violation, but the state has not yet filed official charges in the home invasions.
Law enforcement touted the arrest of Smith in the bar fight — during which police say he broke bones in the victim’s face, setting off the investigation that eventually led to the DNA match.
For 37-year-old Michele Quinones, Smith’s girlfriend at the time, the bar fight presented a violent side of her boyfriend she had never seen. The brawl also led her to realize her boyfriend was a federal ex-convict.
Quinones said she met Smith nearly a year ago while he was working a construction-related job, which he later lost to layoffs. Smith continued to leave their North Port home everyday claiming to be doing odd jobs such as pressure washing or radio installation, Quinones said.
Authorities would later say some days Smith spent his time breaking into women’s homes, beating and sometimes raping them. It was a revelation in stark contrast to the boyfriend Quinones knew.
The Smith she knew would give her flowers, take her out for fun and take care of her mother when she felt ill.
“He would buy me flowers for no reason and put them in my trunk and tell me he forgot something and could I go get it and I would find the flowers,” she said.
“We did fun things together. We went fishing. I don’t know Delmer Smith the man they showed on the news. I know him as D. He was kind to me.”
But it was during the bar fight that Quinones was first startled by Smith’s rage.
“D was asked to stop filming a guy’s girlfriend and he snapped and just hit the guy in the face,” she said. “Delmer is a big guy. The guy he hit was my size, which is much smaller than him.”
When Smith went to the jail on the felony battery charge stemming from the fight, Quinones began looking through his belongings and discovered he had been in federal prison and believed he was still married.
“I threw him out of my house,” she said.
Investigators said when Smith was first released from prison in September 2008, he married a 61-year-old woman he had been corresponding with by mail while incarcerated. She could not be reached for comment.
Smith moved into a duplex with the woman, who shared the home with her cousin, Will Dietch, on 12th Avenue West, in Bradenton.
Dietch said boxes from a federal prison started showing up on the door step to the duplex, where he lived in a back addition of the residence, which belonged to his uncle. He looked up Smith’s background and saw he was in prison for bank robbery.
Dietch placed locks on his doors two weeks before Smith’s arrival, he said.
“I originally told my uncle I didn’t feel comfortable staying there. There was definitely something weird,” Dietch said. “He was friendly. You just never know. I was told he was trying to make up for his past and change his life.”
Dietch moved out just two months after Smith moved in.
He said Smith always asked questions about laptops. Stolen laptops from some of the break-ins were located in a storage unit after authorities took Smith into custody. Dietch said his laptop went missing, but he never reported it.
He called Smith’s arrests for the attacks “surprising,” but added, “You never know with anyone.”
Quinones said she is just glad Smith is behind bars. Ironically, she did a background check on Smith when she met him, but nothing came up in Florida and she says she could not afford a $60 national background check.
“I wish I did. I’m just glad he’s going back to prison where he can’t do this to anyone again,” she said.
— North Port Sun Community Editor Elaine Allen-Emrich contributed to this report.