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Trial in Briles killing could be year away

BRADENTON — Murder suspect Delmer Smith appeared in court for the first time Thursday on a charge of killing Kathleen Briles. His attorney said the case is many months away from a trial.

Smith, 38, faces a first-degree murder charge in Briles’ killing. Prosecutors say on Aug. 3, Smith bound Briles in her Terra Ceia home and bludgeoned her to death with a cast iron sewing machine. Her husband, well-known Palmetto Dr. James Briles, found her body on the couple’s living room floor.

“This is a potential death penalty case so I would estimate that it will be at least a year before we would be ready for a trial,” said Smith’s attorney Michael Reiter of the Florida Office of Regional Counsel.

Smith is eligible for the death penalty, but the prosecutor in the case, Assistant State Attorney Brian Iten, said he has not yet decided whether to seek it.

A shackled Smith on Thursday entered the courtroom surrounded by heavy security, wearing a blue jump suit. During the hearing, he waived his right to a speedy trial.

Dr. Briles and his family looked on as Smith walked into the courtroom.

“I made eye contact with him. There is no remorse there,” Kathleen Briles’ sister Diane Brinker said.

Initially, Smith refused to appear in court and was not brought to the courthouse from the Manatee County jail. But bailiffs eventually transported Smith to his hearing after Circuit Judge Debra Riva ordered him to appear.

Riva scheduled Smith’s next hearing for July 8, but has not yet scheduled a trial. Smith is set to stand trial in September in Sarasota on a battery charge stemming from an arrest last August related to a Venice bar fight — an arrest that Sarasota authorities credit for helping them solve a series of attacks that terrorized Manatee and Sarasota counties last year.

Smith faces a slew of felony charges stemming from the beating and rape of several Sarasota women in home invasions robberies last year, as well as an attack on a Bradenton couple in their home. He will be returned to the Sarasota jail to face his charges there before his cases in Manatee.

After his arrest on the bar fight, Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office detectives learned Smith had just been released on probation from federal prison.

When his probation was revoked after the fight, detectives searched a storage unit in Smith’s name and found items they said had been taken from the homes of four women Smith is accused of attacking.

Several items in the storage bin were also found to have been stolen from the Briles home, according to investigators.