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Delmer Smith pleads not guilty to murder

BRADENTON — Accused killer Delmer Smith III, a man suspected in as many as 11 brutal attacks on women in Sarasota and Manatee counties, is pleading not guilty to bludgeoning a woman to death with a sewing machine in her Terra Ceia home, according to prosecutors who received a waiver of arraignment Thursday.

Smith, 38, who will be represented by the regional counsel’s office, is charged with first-degree murder in the slaying Kathleen Briles in her home Aug. 3.

The arraignment initiates a 45-day window for prosecutors to decide whether to seek the death penalty, said Assistant State Attorney Brian Iten, who is prosecuting the case.

The case is now moving forward after there was some dispute over whether the 12th Circuit Public Defender’s Office, which serves Manatee and Sarasota, or Office of Regional Counsel, which handles cases when the public defender’s office has a conflict representing a client, would represent Smith.

According to an amended order submitted by the public defender’s office, their office represented James Cellecz, 32, who was charged in a providing false verification of ownership to a pawn broker Nov. 6. The office also represented Cellecz in two Sarasota cases last year, according to the order.

Cellecz told detectives Smith had given him the items to sell, but claimed he had no knowledge of an attack on Briles.

It was at that time that Cellecz began sharing information about Smith that lead to his arrest in Briles’ homicide on Feb. 11.

The public defender’s office argued it would be a conflict of interest to represent Smith when it had a prior client-attorney relationship with Cellecz in previous cases.

“Cellecz had an attorney-client relationship with the Office of the Public Defender before Delmer Smith was ever arrested,” states the amended order that has been submitted to Judge Debra Riva’s office.

The Office of Regional Counsel, which represents certain clients eligible for court-appointed lawyers, filed a notice Wednesday to withdraw its objection to the public defender’s motion to withdraw from Smith’s cases.

Regional counsel initially argued the public defender’s office had been appointed to represent Smith on a battery charge stemming from the bar fight and the Sarasota home invasion charges, before Cellecz was arrested, according to court documents. Smith was arrested after his involvement in a Venice bar fight in August, which set off an investigation that led authorities to a storage bin under his control that held property from several of the home invasions and the Briles’ home.

Smith is facing multiple rape and home invasion robbery charges stemming from four attacks on women in their Sarasota homes last year, and Bradenton police recently filed a home invasion robbery charge in a April 21 attack on a 61-year-old woman and her 62-year-old husband in their home. Both were bound and severely beaten.

Smith also pleaded not guilty to attacking the couple in their home this week, according to court documents.

Cellecz is scheduled to go to trial April 26 on charges stemming from the pawning of Briles’ jewelry, according to court records.

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