Dr. James Briles showed a mixture of composure and emotion as he took the stand Monday morning in the murder trial of Delmer Smith III for the Aug. 3, 2009, slaying of his wife, Kathleen.
Briles described his wife as an animal rescuer who was working to obtain her college degree.
He stared at Smith as the 911 call he made after discovering his wife’s body in their living room played in courtroom 5A.
“I just got home. My wife is on the floor. There is blood all over,” a recording of Briles’ voice filled the room. “She’s tied up. It looks like someone hit her in the head with something. I think she’s already dead.”
Briles’ voice was filled with shock as he told the dispatch worker his hands were covered in blood. The call goes on to say, “She’s blue, she’s cold.”
The dispatch worker told Briles to avoid touching anything else on the scene and to meet sheriff’s deputies outside.
During his testimony, Briles explained the layout of his house and property. His wife’s car was parked in an unusual place, the door was locked, and the house was abnormally dark and quiet.
Briles said their dog was anxious and whining when he arrived home just after 7:30 p.m. from making rounds at Manatee Memorial Hospital.
Briles saw a dark figure in the floor of the living room and thought a blanket had fallen off of the couch.
“Then I realized it was her laying over there so I ran over there, called her name, very breathless, ‘Kathy Kathy.’ I found her lying on her stomach, her hands were bound behind her in duct tape, ankles bound in duct tape, gag around her face,” Briles testified, mimicking how her body was lying. “I rolled her over and I took my right hand and pulled the gag down. And she wasn’t breathing. She was cold. There was no pulse and her face was deformed. Her left jaw was deformed. Her head was deformed and I knew she was dead.”
An antique, cast iron sewing machine was lying near her body, he said.
Briles explained that the house had been ransacked. There were dents on the floor and walls and blood on the floor and several pieces of furniture. His wife’s glasses were laying near a rocking chair. Briles estimated approximately $30,000 to $40,000 worth of jewelry was taken. Gray duct tape was missing from a shed out back.
Briles went on to say that two weeks ago he found his wife’s house keys while raking leaves near the shed.
“They’ve been there for three years,” he said.
Assistant State Attorney Suzanne O’Donnell questioned Briles about a Minnie Mouse key chain, necklace, medical encyclopedia, coin set and watch, all of which were taken from the home and connected to Smith.
The deputy who first arrived on the scene testified to seeing a shocked Briles covered in blood.
“He was white as a ghost,” the deputy said. “All he kept repeating was, ‘She’s dead. She’s dead.’”
The deputy said he and a colleague cleared the house. Kathleen Briles was lying face up, her arms behind her back and her legs in front of her, he said.
“There was a lot of blood,” he said. “Some of it had dried up and some of it was wet.”
Also called to the stand Monday morning was Kathleen Briles’ friend, Christie Gish, who saw Briles hours before she was killed.
Briles visited the woman at a 7-Eleven on Manatee Avenue West, where Gish was a manager.
Gish recalled explaining to Briles how to achieve a certain hairstyle. She also recalled Briles’ catching her hair on a watch, which was missing from the crime scene.
The manager at a Publix in Palmetto, where Kathleen Briles bought groceries about 3:40 p.m. that day, testified to surveillance footage that showed her checking out and leaving the parking lot in the direction of her Terra Ceia home.
During opening statements, Assistant State Attorney Brian Iten explained that the prosecutors will use cell phone records, stolen items found in connection with Smith and testimony to prove Smith’s guilt.
He said during testimony, jurors will hear that Briles suffered at least eight blows to her head with an antique sewing machine while bound with duct tape.
Iten said premeditation was shown by Smith binding Briles’ mouth, wrists and ankles, leaving the room to “seek out a lethal weapon.”
Iten said before Smith delivered the fatal blow “there was time to reflect.”
Daniel Hernandez, defense attorney, said the state’s evidence is circumstantial and “makes Mr. Smith a suspect, but does not prove beyond reasonable doubt.”
Hernandez also said some witnesses lack credibility. He specifically pointed out James Cellecz who pawned a necklace allegedly given to him by Smith which belonged to Briles.
“There will be no question Mrs. Briles was murdered, but the question will remain unanswered who killed her,” Hernandez said.