Questions still mount for Briles family

MANATEE — The family of Kathleen Briles has fought to get to the point where they can smile and laugh as they talk about the feisty woman they loved so much and lost to violence, but it doesn’t last.

It has been more than seven months since Dr. James Briles found his wife bound and beaten to death on the living room floor of their Terra Ceia home, and closure remains a distant hope.

As the family gathered for an interview with the Bradenton Herald this week in the home where the doctor found his wife slain, emotions flashed from laughter, to sorrow, to anger.

Laughter when the memories came flooding in of the 5-foot Kathleen Briles, at all of 90 pounds, behind the steering wheel of her huge Buick. Dr. Briles recalled the first time he saw Kathleen in a grocery store.

“Beautiful. I had to look at her. I made sure to find out where she liked to hang out so I could meet her,” Dr. Briles said with a grin.

Sorrow as Dr. Briles recalls coming home to a dark house and finding her body.

“I couldn’t see anything but something on the floor next to the couch. I couldn’t tell what it was until I turned on a light,” he said. “That’s where I found her.”

Anger at the revelation that the man accused of killing Kathleen Briles has a long criminal history, and a DNA trail that had never been entered into federal law enforcement databases.

Manatee County Sheriff’s Office detectives have arrested 38-year-old Delmer Smith III on a murder charge in Briles’ killing, saying he bludgeoned her to death with a sewing machine. Smith had been scheduled to be arraigned today, but the court date was continued.

Smith is also charged with rape, robbery and false imprisonment in Sarasota stemming from attacks on several women in their homes. He is a suspect in as many as 11 home invasion attacks in Manatee and Sarasota between February and August of last year.

Sarasota authorities arrested Smith after an Aug. 14 bar fight in Venice and discovered a storage unit in his name filled with items reportedly stolen from the sites of four Sarasota attacks and from Briles’ home.

It also came to light that Smith had recently been released from federal prison for a 1995 bank robbery, but his DNA sample taken in prison had not been entered to federal databases due to a backlog of entering inmates’ DNA into the system.

Upon Smith’s arrest, Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office detectives announced they had DNA from four home invasions as early as February, which later matched Smith, reports show. But detectives did not get a hit that time because his DNA had not been entered.

Last fall, the FBI reported the backlog to be at 297,000 DNA samples of federal inmates that had not yet been entered.

“The public needs to realize that they are still in danger,” said Briles’ daughter, Kristen Venema. “The backlog is the direct reason my mother is not here.”

Briles’ sister, Diane Brinker, bristles with anger at the thought of Kathleen’s violent death. As two of nine sisters growing up in Kentucky, they were always tight, and moved to Manatee around the same time in the 1980s.

The sisters talked every day, and Brinker said she had planned to come to the Terra Ceia house to see her sister on the day she died.

“I wish so much that I had. I may have been killed, too, but he would have known he was in a fight with two Kentucky wildcats,” Brinker said. “That man had a fight on his hands, I can tell you that.”

The Briles say they are seeking many more answers in the killing of Kathleen, and a $50,000 reward is still being offered for information on Smith’s whereabouts before and after her death.

“There are so many ‘what ifs’ in this, and we want answers to all of them,” Dr. Briles said.

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