MANATEE — One year ago today, Kathleen Briles was found beaten to death in her Terra Ceia home. For months after he found her body, Dr. James Briles pleaded for information in the murder of his wife.
A backlog of 295,000 federal prisoners’ DNA in the FBI’s database may have kept her killer on the streets — the same man suspected in a series of vicious home invasions that had swept Manatee and Sarasota counties since early 2009.
The revelations brought demands from law enforcement, residents and politicians to change how the database is kept.
Today, FBI officials say the backlog has been dramatically decreased.
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But the backlog still stood at 166,000 samples at the end of June, the FBI acknowledged — a marked improvement from April, when the backlog was reported at 258,000 DNA samples.
The 92,000-sample reduction was welcomed by U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key.
“It’s a very good start, but there is still work that needs to be done,” Buchanan said. “If I had my way, it would have been eliminated yesterday.”
Delmer Smith III was charged in February with Briles’ slaying — one year after his DNA was first found at the scene of a home invasion.
When he was charged in October on four other home invasions, FBI officials pledged the DNA backlog would be eliminated within a year after meetings with Buchanan, who called for an overhaul of how DNA is collected and logged.
“There was a lot of pain inflicted by Smith that could have been avoided had there not been a backlog,” Buchanan said last week.
Eliminating the backlog is crucial to local law enforcement, says Manatee Sheriff Brad Steube, and he hopes to see it gone by early next year.
“That would be beautiful. It’s just so important,” Steube said.
As early as February 2009, Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office deputies had DNA from one of the first home invasions last year. But detectives did not find a match in federal law enforcement databases.
After Smith was arrested in an August 2009 bar fight, authorities learned he had recently been released from federal prison after serving a 15-year sentence for a Michigan robbery. But he was one of the 295,000 federal prisoners whose DNA had not been entered into law enforcement databases.
Smith’s DNA was fast-tracked into the system upon local detectives’ request, and his prison DNA sample matched DNA found at four Sarasota home invasion attacks.
Smith is set to stand trial in September in Sarasota on charges related to the bar fight, and in November on charges related to the rape and beating of several women in home invasion attacks. Smith also will stand trial in July on separate charges that he beat and bound a couple in their Bradenton home.
In the Briles case, Smith is set to stand trial July 5, 2011, on a charge of first-degree murder. If he is convicted, prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty.
Dr. Briles expressed relief that the DNA database backlog had decreased, but stressed that it should be eliminated.
“My family and a lot of other families have suffered,” he said, “so I am glad to see it going down.”