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PREVIOUS COVERAGE | Briles family proposes new pawn shop law

MANATEE — The family of a woman found brutally slain in her home last year is circulating a petition in hopes of creating a law that would require pawn shops to take pictures of pawned items, as well as the seller, and enter the information into a statewide database.

Dr. James Briles found his wife, Kathleen, 49, bound and bludgeoned to death in their Terra Ceia home on Aug. 3, 2009.

She had numerous pieces of jewelry missing, including a gold necklace with a V-shaped pendant with diamond baguette diamond stones.

a day later, some of her belongings were pawned at Pawn Star LLC, 4524 14th St. W., by 32-year-old James Cellecz, who was sentenced in April to 15 years in prison for providing false information to a pawn broker. He was arrested three months after pawning the items.

According to sheriff’s reports, Cellecz told detectives that Delmer Smith III, who is charged in Briles’ slaying, had given him Briles’ jewelry to pawn a day after her body was found.

James Briles and other family members are now pressing for a law that would require more documentation and a database in hopes of catching criminals. After Briles’ death, they had searched for her items in pawn shops from Tampa to Ft. Myers, he said Thursday, finding sometimes that pawn shops didn’t have clear records of who pawned items.

Mary Wanser, who was Kathleen Briles’ best friend, said she hopes the proposed law “somehow makes sense of this tragic happening and prevents this in the future.”

“How much trouble could it be to click a photograph?” she said. “It would help streamline the process for cops.”

So far, hundreds of petition signatures have been collected in the past few days.

“It’s a simple change. It makes sense,” Wanser said. “I feel confident this will pass.”

While Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube supports the family and their efforts to create a law, he said there could be issues in finding ways for the state to fund the database.

“That’s my only reservation. If the law were passed, it would be another unfunded mandate, depending on how it is written, and each county would be responsible for putting it into play,” he said.

Florida has some counties who participate in a database entitled FINDER, which enables law enforcement to share information, including pawn information, between agencies. However, participation is not required.

Florida law already requires pawn shops to take a seller’s thumb print and examine a form of official identification, as well as sign a statement pledging the item belongs to them.

Howard Pruitt, who manages the Pawn Star where Cellecz pawned several items, said his store already goes above and beyond what the state requires.

Pruitt would not comment specifically on Briles’ case, but said for more than a year, all sellers at his pawn shop have had their photos taken.

“I take a picture because that’s more accurate,” he said inside the store Thursday. “This doesn’t take any extra time really — it takes an extra second.”

He said the photos are kept on file in the store and made available to law enforcement at their request. The sheriff’s office examines lists of pawned items at least every 48 hours from every local store in Manatee, according to local authorities.

Pruitt said taking pictures of every pawned item could be tedious, though.

“Anything that’s brought in, you have to give a detailed description, so it’s like taking a picture,” he said. “It’s a great idea. I don’t think it will ever happen. I understand why they want it and I agree with them, but the logistics aren’t there.”

Steube said had such a database existed, it’s possible Smith would have been taken into custody much quicker. He was charged with Briles’ death Feb. 11.

However, it’s become more challenging to locate stolen goods in recent years with online sales and other venues to sell items, such as gold shops.

“It’s great everyone wants to abide by these rules, but I would like to see the gold dealers, jewelry stores and second-hand dealers abide by the same rules as the pawn shops,” Pruitt said.

Smith also faces felony charges in several home invasion robberies last year, as well as an attack on a Bradenton couple in their home. He is suspected in a total of 11 attacks.

Smith’s arrest sparked controversy after the FBI revealed the agency had his DNA prior to some of the home invasion attacks, but had not entered it into federal DNA databases because of a backlog in the entries of federal inmates’ DNA.

Smith was arrested in a bar fight in Venice after detectives learned he violated his probation after he was released from federal prison. They searched a storage unit and found items from several victims, including some of Briles’ belongings.

His next court appearance for Briles’ case is July 8.

In the next few weeks, members of the Briles family are expected to launch a website,, with information about the possible law.

In the meantime, they ask people e-mail them for more information at

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