MANATEE — Investigators from Manatee have re-interviewed witnesses and are culling through evidence that could implicate Delmer Smith III in several home invasion and other attacks. But their sense of urgency appears tempered by the strength of the four cases filed against him in Sarasota.
Smith, 38, is the prime suspect in at least two attacks being investigated by the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office. But spokesman Dave Bristow acknowledged Thursday that Smith may never be charged in the local cases — in part because of the evidence against him in the Sarasota cases.
Smith has been held in the Pinellas County jail since Sept. 11, when he was arrested for violating his federal probation on a bank robbery sentence. He has been charged with multiple home invasion, sexual battery and other charges in four Sarasota attacks in which his DNA evidence reportedly was found.
“They’ve got some solid cases down there,” Bristow said.
No DNA evidence from a possible attacker was recovered in any of the Manatee attacks.
Sarasota detectives recovered the first DNA evidence in an attack on Feb. 22.
The evidence was submitted to the FBI for comparison with a national database. But because of a backlog of thousands of cases not entered by the FBI, Smith’s DNA — which had been obtained in March 2008 while he was in federal prison on the bank robbery conviction — was not put into the federal database before he was released from prison in September 2008.
The FBI expedited the processing of Smith’s DNA in September after receiving a request from Sarasota investigators after his arrest. DNA from the Feb. 22 attack — as well as subsequent attacks in Sarasota on March 7, March 14 and May 26 — was identified as belonging to Smith, according to investigators’ reports.
U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, is inquiring how Smith’s DNA was handled, and spoke Thursday spoke with FBI officials about the case, according to his spokeswoman Sally Tibbetts. Buchanan, who has not publicly commented about the Smith case, and sheriffs Brad Steube of Manatee and Tom Knight of Sarasota will hold a news conference in Sarasota this morning.
Investigators say there is other evidence that links Smith to the Sarasota home invasions, including two laptop computers stolen during two of the attacks that were found among Smith’s belongings in Venice.
Detectives from the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and Bradenton Police Department are examining what has been found to see if anything links Smith to their cases, according to Bristow and Bradenton Police Deputy Chief J.J. Lewis.
Sheriff’s detectives have re-interviewed several victims and witnesses in the home invasions and assaults on March 13 on 19th Avenue Northwest, and on March 31 on State Road 70 in East Manatee.
“We are basically done with that,” he said. “We’ll see what happens, but there is only so much you can do with what you have.”
Bradenton police are investigating attacks on Feb. 16 on 26th Street Northwest and April 20 on 32nd Street Northwest.
Smith also is a suspect in at least four other attacks in Sarasota, including the April 6 slaying of a 37-year-old woman in her home.
Noting similarities in the cases, Manatee detectives have not ruled out Smith as a suspect in the Aug. 3 slaying of Kathleen Briles in her Terra Ceia home, Bristow said.
“We would be remiss if we didn’t look at him, but we don’t have anything right now,” he said.
In the four cases in which Smith has been charged, Sarasota investigators’ reports list several similar details in the attacks.
The attacker in each case wore dark clothing; in three of the cases, that included a black ski mask. He bound and gagged two of the victim. And two of the female victims were raped.
And at each of the four crime scenes, investigators found what has been identified as Smith’s DNA.
Bristow said Manatee detectives are not in a hurry to file additional cases against Smith, even though they are “fairly confident” he is responsible for the attack on 19th Avenue Northwest.
“The most important thing,” said Bristow, “is that he is off the street.”