SARASOTA — Delmer Smith III, the suspect in a string of violent home invasion robberies and one homicide, was found guilty Friday of misdemeanor battery for his role in an August 2009 bar fight in Venice.
He originally had been charged with felony battery, pleading “not guilty” to the charge. Judge Rochelle T. Curley said the issue the jury had wrestled with centered around what constituted “great bodily harm” to the victim.
She sentenced Smith to 11 months, 29 days in jail, with credit for time served.
Restitution was a possibility, but would be decided at a later date, the judge said.
The judge instructed Smith to refrain from all contact with victim Jason Byrne, who is also in the Sarasota County jail after he was arrested Friday morning on an outstanding warrant.
When asked by the judge after the sentencing if he had anything to say, the beefy, soft-spoken Smith replied, “No. Thank you.”
He was dressed in a rumpled white shirt, a printed red tie and a gray suit. Leg irons designed to prevent escape were removed at the request of his attorney before he testified before the jury.
Following his arrest in connection with the late-night bar fight in August of last year, authorities identified Smith as the suspect in as many as 12 violent home invasion robberies in Manatee and Sarasota counties, during which several women were sexually assaulted. One, Kathleen Briles, of Terra Ceia, was beaten to death.
Smith faces charges in six of the cases, and is slated to stand trial on those charges later this year in Sarasota, and next year in Manatee.
Taking the stand in his own defense Thursday, Smith said Byrne approached him, cursing and waving his finger. Smith said he thought Byrne “was going to knock my teeth out with his forehead.”
“I was trying to leave and he jumped at me,” Smith said.
Smith was in the bar to make a promotional video for the deejay, who was his girlfriend at the time, Smith said. Part of the video was shown during the trial, but the camera fell to the floor during the fracas, and the fight itself was not recorded, Smith’s attorney, Allan F. Baily, said.
Baily argued in a closing statement that Smith had acted in self defense after he was provoked by the foul-mouthed Byrne, who witnesses said was cursing as Smith attempted to shoot the video.
Baily said Byrne came to Smith, adding of the victim, “He’s the one who started this.” Baily argued Smith had been threatened and used justifiable force to fend off attack.
The prosecutor, Assistant State Attorney Daniel Yuter, contended in his closing that it was Smith who had attacked Byrne, and had thrown a single punch that had caused “great bodily harm.” The punch broke the orbital bone in Byrne’s face, Yuter said.
Yuter also noted that Smith weighed 285 pounds, and had been a personal trainer at one point, while Byrne weighed 150 pounds.
Smith is scheduled to stand trial in November in connection with several attacks in Sarasota County; in July 2011 he will be tried in the Briles case. He has pleaded “not guilty” to the charges.
If convicted of killing Briles, he could be sentenced to death.
Venice police arrested Smith after the bar fight. Byrne said Smith had attacked him.
Federal authorities said the bar fight violated Smith’s probation for a 1995 bank robbery conviction, for which he was released in September 2008.
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.
Detectives also linked Smith with some of the crimes by comparing DNA taken from him after his arrest with evidence recovered from the crime scenes.
Federal prison officials had submitted Smith’s DNA to the FBI for placement in a national database while he was still in custody, but it had not been entered because of a backlog in samples. So, even though local investigators had recovered DNA from some of the crime scenes, it did not match with anything in databases.
Local officials have said they think some of the local crimes might have been prevented if Smith’s DNA had been included in the database.
The FBI says it has been successful in reducing the size of the backlog since last year.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.