Judge rules on Delmer Smith evidence in advance of Sarasota trial

SARASOTA -- A judge ruled Thursday that attorneys in the Delmer Smith III trial that begins next week 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,” Circuit Judge Rochelle Curley’s 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.”

Smith, a suspect in as many as 11 violent home invasions and sexual assaults in Manatee and Sarasota counties, is set to stand trial next week on charges related to a March 2009 armed home invasion robbery and armed kidnapping in Sarasota County.

He 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.

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 might 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. The prosecution is seeking life in prison in this case.

In Manatee County, Smith is accused of the Aug. 3, 2009, slaying of Kathleen Briles in her Terra Ceia home. He is set to stand trial in her death next year, and could be sentenced to death if found guilty of first-degree murder.

Jury selection in the Sarasota case will start Monday.