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Sarasota judge rules on evidence in Delmer Smith case

SARASOTA -- Circuit Judge Rochelle Curley today ruled on whether certain testimony will be allowed when Delmer Smith III stands trial next week on charges related to a March 2009 armed home invasion robbery and armed kidnapping in Sarasota County.

Smith, a suspect in as many as 11 violent home invasions in Manatee and Sarasota, is accused of entering a residence wearing a black ski mask and gloves, and carrying a firearm and electric cords that were used to bind the victim’s hands and feet, according to the arrest report. Smith made off with about $2,820 worth of items from the residence, the report said.

The judge ruled that attorneys will not be allowed to ask two Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office deputies about their refusal to provide DNA samples to investigators to rule out evidence found at the crime scene.

“The court finds this issue to be irrelevant to any facts in issue, and excludes it on this analysis,” the ruling states. “Additionally, the court finds this issue is inadmissible because its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issue, or misleading the jury.”

During a hearing Tuesday, defense attorney Marjorie Bender said the deputies’ refusal goes to irregularities in how DNA evidence was collected and the deputies’ trust in their department’s ability to collect it.

“This case comes down to DNA evidence,” she said.

Prosecutor Elizabeth Scanlan argued investigators found DNA belonging to both the victim and Smith, and that the DNA was not the only evidence in this case.

Although the judge did not side with the defense on that issue, Curley did rule that a recorded jail house conversation between Smith and an ex-girlfriend would be redacted to exclude that it was recorded inside a Pinellas County jail.

During the hearing Bender said not knowing where the conversation was recorded would not take away from the conversation’s content. She added it may lead to assumptions that Smith had been convicted of previous crimes.

In the alleged conversation, Smith directs the woman to take property out of storage, according to Scanlan, including a firearm reportedly used in the robbery.

Scanlan argued that not knowing where the conversation was recorded would leave the jury wondering why it was even recorded.

“The court agrees with the defendant,” the ruling states.

Smith is also suspect in as many as 11 home invasion robberies and sexual assaults in Manatee and Sarasota counties, including the Aug. 3, 2009, slaying of Kathleen Briles in her Terra Ceia home.

He is set to stand trial for Briles’ death, and could be sentenced to death if found guilty of first-degree murder.

Jury selection in the Sarasota case will start Monday.