BRADENTON -- Martha Tejeda took the stand Tuesday morning in Smith’s first-degree murder trial in the slaying of Kathleen Briles, testifying how Smith instructed her to retrieve from storage a duffel bag that contained items investigators say belonged to slaying victim Kathleen Briles.
In her testimony, Tejeda said she and Smith were more than friends but never dated. She met the defendant, who she knew as "Dee," about four months before he was charged with murder, she said.
Tejeda testified Tuesday through an interpreter. She said she lived several houses down from Smith in North Port during 2009.
Smith called Tejeda several times from the Sarasota County jail. Tejeda said in those calls, Smith asked her to get a duffel bag “from storage.” Tejeda said she retrieved the bag, which contained a lock box, and put it in her attic.
Tejeda also brought a car that belonged to Smith to her property. Police took the car for processing.
Tejeda said she did not give police the duffel bag at first because she was “frightened.”
“When I went to give a statement that night, the police explained to me what was happening. I went to work and then I asked the manager,” the interpreter translated. “I only told her I was frightened and what was going on.”
Tejeda said at that point she had decided to turn over the duffel bag and its contents.
Jessica Jarecki and Jessica Hendrickson, who worked as crime scene technicians for the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office in 2009, testified to contents found in those duffel bags.
Items found inside a lock box within the duffel bag included a coin set, Minnie Mouse key chain with keys, a golden lock and watch, Jarecki said.
Armenouhi Comstock, owner of Armik’s Fine Collectibles, testified that the Minnie Mouse pewter keychain entered into evidence was like one she sent to Dr. James Briles in May 2009. Comstock said she sent the keychain, which was discontinued in 2000, to Briles as a gift with a $475 purchase.
Mary Wanser, who “considered Kathleen to be my best friend,” said she was with Briles when she received a “his and her” watch set as a gift from a car dealership in July 2009. Wanser identified the watch set, entered into evidence, as appearing “to be very much like the watches I saw.
Calvin Briles, the victim’s eldest son, said in 2007 he borrowed a medical encyclopedia among other books from his parents. Briles, who returned the books in May 2009, is now a physician in Gainesville. He identified the medical encyclopedia, entered into evidence, as showing the same signs as other books he borrowed. Because they sat on a shelf he said the “book covers kind of skewed.”
Investigators have said the items were taken from Kathleen Briles' home when she was killed Aug. 3, 2009.
Prosecutors also called the laboratory director who processed items in the case. Neither Kathleen Briles’, nor Delmer Smith’s DNA were found on the items processed.
Ned Foy, who was transferred to the Manatee County Sheriff’s homicide unit in August 2009, testified to verifying through the Briles’ family that the medical encyclopedia, Minnie Mouse and padlock key chains, woman’s watch, coin set and necklace were owned by the victim.
Foy said keys on the Minnie Mouse key chain were compatible with a tan Chevrolet Blazer owned by Smith in 2009.
“I used a set of keys, the same keys that are on the Mickey Mouse key chain and I opened the locks of the tan Blazer and start the ignition of the vehicle,” Foy testified.
The owner of Roadkill Auto Inc., a used car lot in Bradenton, testified to Smith trading the tan Blazer for a red Hyundai at the end of August 2009.
Foy also visited a duct tape factory to watch the process and show that bare hands touch the tape during manufacturing. When asked by the defense, Foy said that was done because an unexplained finger print was found on the tape used to bind Briles.
Robert Feverston, a latent print examiner for the sheriff’s office, said a print lifted from the medical encyclopedia matched Smith’s left index finger.
Feverston said print samples from approximately 89 people were referenced while processing prints lifted from the book.
Smith’s attorney, Daniel Hernandez, asked if prints of James Cellecz, who was convicted of pawning items stolen from the Briles home allegedly given to him by Smith, were tested.
“I did have known finger prints of James Cellecz,” said Feverston, who added they did not match any prints lifted.
While Tejeda was on the stand, prosecutors played portions of five recorded phone calls between Tejeda and Smith, who was in the Sarasota County jail.
In those phone calls, Smith gives Tejeda directions to the storage unit and explains how to get in.
“It’s very important you get the big red and white bag,” Smith says in one of the calls.
Tejeda, who had trouble understanding the bag’s description, had her son translate.
In another call, Smith tells Tejeda, “Get all the bags tomorrow. Take all of the bags. If you don’t hear from me, you go up to the storage and take every last one of the bags out of there.”
During phone calls, the two shared “I love yous,” but Smith worried Tejeda would not help him.
“You have second thoughts about us,” Smith asked. “You said you don’t feel good about this.”
In another phone call, Tejeda tells Smith she has taken the bags to her house. Tejeda speaks quickly as she tells Smith police came to her house, asking her about Smith.
“You haven’t done nothing wrong,” Smith said, asking Tejeda to calm down. “You never got nothing out of my storage. You don’t know nothing about that, right?”