Crime

DNA technology used to link convicted killer to another murder victim wasn’t available in 2009

Delmer Smith is escorted by deputies in October in Judge Diana Moreland’s courtroom in the Manatee County Judicial Center for day one of Smith’s evidentiary hearing for post-conviction relief.
Delmer Smith is escorted by deputies in October in Judge Diana Moreland’s courtroom in the Manatee County Judicial Center for day one of Smith’s evidentiary hearing for post-conviction relief. ttompkins@bradenton.com

New technology capable of distinguishing multiple DNA profiles in a given sample enabled the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office to charge Delmer Smith nearly nine years after a 37-year-old woman was raped and killed inside her home.

Smith, 46, was a suspect in a spree of home invasions and sexual assaults that terrorized residents in Manatee and Sarasota counties for months until his arrest in September 2009. He was later sentenced to life in prison after being convicted for armed home invasion and armed kidnapping in one Sarasota case, and sentenced to death for the first-degree murder of Kathleen Briles in a Manatee case.

After the two convictions in 2011 and 2012, four other pending cases against him were dropped by prosecutors.

Now nearly nine years later, Smith is being charged with murder and sexual battery in the April 2009 death of Georgann Lee Smith, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office announced last month. Detectives say they were able to link Smith to the crime thanks to new DNA evidence.

The new DNA evidence is a result of a new technology that was not available in 2009, according to DNA Labs International’s Senior DNA analyst Rachel Oefelein.

“Part of the issues in this case is that it’s comprised of several submissions,” Oefelein said.

Most recently on Oct. 13, the sheriff’s office submitted DNA extracted from the victim’s clothes after DNA International acquired new technology, STRmix, according to sheriff’s office spokeswoman Kaitlyn R. Perez. With STRmix, a forensic computer software system, analysts are able to separate multiple DNA profiles in a given sample.

As a result, Smith’s DNA was identified on the sample taken from the victim’s clothing, according to a DNA report the sheriff’s office received on Nov. 14 from DNA Labs International.

In total, DNA Labs International received five submissions of significant evidence in connection to this case, Perez said.

Smith is currently housed at Florida State Prison in Raiford, but will be transported back to Sarasota County to face the new charges.

Most recently he was in a Manatee County courtroom in October as he unsuccessfully sought a new penalty phase of his trial in the Briles case, in an attempt to get off death row.

Prior DNA woes

Smith’s violent crime spree in Manatee and Sarasota counties began as early as February 2009, and by late May 2009 when a multi-agency task force had already been formed, he was a suspect in at least 11 sexual assaults and home invasions.

But although Smith’s DNA had been collected by the Federal Bureau of Prisons before his release in September 2008 for a bank robbery conviction in Michigan, it had not yet made it’s way into the FBI’s DNA database at the time he was terrorizing Manatee and Sarasota counties. It was part of at least a 250,000-sample backlog at the time, the FBI later admitted.

By April 2009, DNA found at some of the crime scenes had already confirmed that at least some of the cases were linked.

It was his arrest by Venice police on Aug. 14, 2009 — 11 days after Briles was murdered — that would lead to detectives identifying him as a suspect. Smith had been arrested on battery charges after getting into a bar fight. He was released from jail, but detectives learned he had a warrant because the bar fight had violated his federal probation.

Detectives went to his pregnant girlfriend’s house and were given items Smith had asked her to hide. Detectives were able to identify many of the items having been stolen from the crime scene in the rash of his violent crimes. After a local request for Smith’s DNA sample from the FBI, federal officials realized it had not been entered into their database and expedited the process.

The DNA from some of the crime scenes in Sarasota was tested Sept. 24, and by Oct. 1, the FBI had confirmed it was a match with Smith’s DNA.

Parabon Nanolabs, a Virginia-based company, uses genetic traits from DNA samples to predict the suspect's physical appearance, including ancestry, hair and eye color. The technology could help police solve cold cases.

Jessica De Leon: 941-745-7049, @JDeLeon1012

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