Attorneys address issue of Smith’s race

BRADENTON — A public defender argued Saturday morning in court that murder suspect Delmer Smith III should have a home invasion robbery charge dropped because the victims believed their attacker was black.

Smith, 38, who declined to appear before the judge, has been identified as a white male in a majority of police reports issued by Bradenton Police, Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, Sarasota Police Department and the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office.

Franklin Roberts, who was assigned from the public defender’s office for first appearances Saturday, argued the charge should be dropped because his client is white, saying Smith’s appearance goes against what victims told police.

Bradenton Police Department detectives served Smith a warrant for home invasion robbery Friday afternoon. According to the warrant, on April 20, Smith allegedly took money and jewelry from a couple’s residence in the 200 block of 32nd Avenue Northwest. He allegedly tied up a 61-year-old woman and her 62-year-old husband using electrical cords, and then gagged them with their bed sheets.

Authorities suspect Smith is responsible for as many as 12 attacks in Sarasota and Manatee counties, including many in which women were bound and beaten in their homes.

The arrest warrant filed by Bradenton Police on Friday links the April 20 home invasion attack with four Sarasota home invasion cases in which Smith has been charged.

According to the arrest warrant affidavit, those similarities between cases include: targeting older women as victims, the attacker’s voice sounding like a black male, the intruder forcing his way into the residence, spending about 15 to 20 minutes in each attack, holding victims up using a gun by pistol whipping them, stating he needs money for a crack addiction, forcing the victim to guide him through the home looking for jewelry, stating he has a partner outside of the residence, stealing jewelry and wedding rings, tying victims up with electrical cords using a two half hitch knot and using excessive force on victims when beating them even though he had full control.

“I note that before the court today, the victims describe the intruder as the voice of a black male,” Roberts said. “The other cases are not enough to support a charge of home invasion robbery. Honestly, according to the arrest warrant, Mr. Smith is a white male. ... The victims suggest a black male — not a white male.”

However, Smith, who has a white mother and black father, in some cases has been hard to racially distinguish. In a Venice Police Department, his race was listed as unknown or not apparent.

Jared Monahan, an assistant state attorney, argued victims could not identify the race of the attacker because he was wearing gloves and a black ski mask during the attacks.

Mark Lipinksi, a criminal defense attorney, said Smith’s race will be a minor issue as he faces criminal charges in court.

“Black and white are opinions unless they go with DNA from an empirical standpoint. It’s a non-issue,” he said. “We’re funny about race even in 2010.”

Bradenton police built a case by showing cell phone tower records placed Smith a half mile near the victims’ residence near the time of the April 20 attack. His DNA was found on a digital camera stolen from the couple and the home invasion had many similarities to other area attacks, police said.

Circuit Court Judge Gilbert Smith Jr. ruled Saturday to leave Smith in jail on the charge with a $500,000 bond with an order to have no contact with the victims. Smith remains in jail without bond facing other charges, including the murder of Kathleen Briles after she was bludgeoned to death in her Terra Ceia home Aug. 3.