MANATEE -- A prospective juror in the Delmer Smith III murder trial was kicked out of the Manatee courthouse Monday afternoon after the judge learned he had been sharing a newspaper article about the case with other possible panelists.
When Judge Peter Dubensky learned the man's identity, he interrupted the first day of jury selection to question him harshly in court.
"Didn't you hear anything I said about taking precautions," Dubensky said to the man.
The man replied he didnt think it was causing any trouble to have the article around.
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"I was in law enforcement so I know what you can and can't do," the man said.
"If you were in law enforcement," Dubensky replied, "then that's all the more reason for you to realize that having something like this in a courtroom could taint the jury.
Dubensky then had bailiffs escort the man from the courthouse.
Smith's defense attorney, Daniel Hernandez, asked the judge to rule that the whole panel of prospective jurors had been tainted and to restart the selection process.
Dubensky denied the motion and interviews of prospective jurors for the trial continued.
Fourteen people -- 12 jurors plus two alternates -- will be selected to determine Smith's fate. If it convicts Smith of first-degree murder, the jury will then consider whether to recommend whether he be executed by lethal injection.
"Mr. Smith has been charged with a very serious crime," Dubensky said at the beginning of the day. "This is the hardest thing we ever ask a jury to do."
Smith, who turned 41 earlier this month, is charged with first-degree murder and burglary in the Aug. 3, 2009, bludgeoning death of Kathleen Briles in her Terra Ceia home. Authorities say Smith broke into the home Briles shared with her husband Dr. James Briles and killed her with an antique sewing machine.
Smith late last year was sentenced to life in prison without chance of parole after being found guilty of breaking into a Sarasota home in March 2009, tying up a woman with electrical cord and ransacking her home.
At 3:28 p.m. the 46 jury candidates remaining broke into groups of five to talk to the attorneys about the death penalty.
They were asked:
Is there a difference between someone who consciously decides to kill versus someone who kills randomly during a crime?
Can each person make the ultimate decision to vote for death?
During a break, Dr. Briles said he thought the trial was progressing as planned.
"I think it will take a little longer than usual to pick a jury," Briles said.
The judge said it could take up to four days to pick the jury.
Briles family members present include Briles, his daughter, Kristen, son-in-law Thomas and the victim's sister, Diane Brinker.
Smith also is the suspect in at least four other violent home invasions in 2009 in Sarasota and Manatee counties.
Smith was arrested less than a month after Briles was killed when he got into a bar fight in Venice. He was tied to the break-ins after investigators found evidence linking him with some of the robberies.
Investigators later found items they say were taken from the Briles home from a storage bin belonging to Smith.