Crime

In Sarasota, home invasion victim recounts attack details in Delmer Smith trial

SARASOTA -- After an armed man broke into and ransacked her home, an elderly woman was so scared she had a heart attack.

At about 10 p.m. March 14, 2009, the Canadian snowbird was beading jewelry on a couch inside her Sarasota house when she felt a presence in the room.

She was home alone. Her husband was out of town.

The lights had just been turned off.

The victim calmly told her story Tuesday to a crowded courtroom in Sarasota, testifying in the armed home invasion robbery and armed kidnapping trial of Delmer Smith III.

“Within a fraction of a second, there was a big dark shadow standing just by my side,” the victim testified Tuesday.

The woman -- who declined to be identified because she is a crime victim -- retold the details of the night when Smith is charged with breaking into her home on Carmilfra Drive and attacking her.

The attacker placed his left hand over her face as she tried to scream for help and pinned her to the couch.

The man said, “Stop screaming or I will kill you,” she testified.

She could not see her attacker’s face, but he was garbed in dark, bulky clothing. He grabbed her and dragged her to every room in the house, she testified, continually asking her where valuable items were located.

The woman said he told her several times, “I need money, I need crack.”

At one point, the woman testified, the attacker showed her the barrel of a gun. “He wanted to make sure that I saw that he had a gun,” she said.

The attacker took a large flat-screen TV off a wall after he demanded to know where he could find tools in the house to dismount it.

In an effort to save her life, the woman said, “Thank you very much. You’re very kind.”

But the man replied, “No, don’t thank me. And I am not kind. I will kill you if I have to.”

Among the stolen items: a computer with a mouse and speakers, a TV, an iPod and its docking station, and $250 in cash.

Before leaving, the attacker tied the woman’s hands and feet with electrical cords and wrapped it around her neck.

“Every time I moved, it was pulling my throat,” she said.

After he left, she freed her right hand and began to untie herself. She ran to her neighbor’s home, where they called 911.

After the attack, the woman said she felt “heaviness” in her chest. At a hospital later that night, doctors confirmed she had suffered a heart attack.

Photos displayed at the trial showed deep marks on her wrists and ankles caused by the cords.

For about one year, her jaw was in pain. “And now I have to admit that if somebody is coming at me very fast, I get scared,” she said.

During the victim’s testimony, Smith -- wearing a white dress shirt and gray pants -- barely looked at her. Instead, he read documents and scribbled on a yellow notepad. His shackled feet were hidden underneath the wooden table.

Among the crowd in the courtroom was Dr. James Briles, widower of Kathleen Briles. Smith is charged with bludgeoning his wife to death with a sewing machine on Aug. 3, 2009, in the Briles’ Terra Ceia home. That trial is set for July and he could face the death penalty.

During opening statements, prosecutor Elizabeth Scanlan said drops of bodily fluids found at the scene were compared with Smith’s DNA.

“It was a perfect match for the defendant,” she said. “That DNA is the last piece of this puzzle.”

While cross-examining Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Dan Tutko, defense attorney Marjorie Bender pointed out that the victim initially reported her attacker was black. Smith is white. Earlier in the trial, the victim told Bender that her attacker had an African-American accent.

The victim’s laptop was turned into authorities by Smith’s then-girlfriend. Bender pointed out that although Smith had the laptop in his possession, he could have obtained it from another person.

“You have no idea how that 17-inch screen laptop actually came to possession ... of Delmer Smith?” Bender asked.

“No, I don’t know specifically,” said sheriff’s Detective Mike Dumer.

Prosecutors are seeking life in prison. A jury of five men and two women -- including an alternate -- will decide the verdict.

Smith is also suspected in as many as 10 other home invasion robberies -- five in Manatee County and five in Sarasota County -- that took place between February and May 2009. During one home invasion, he allegedly sexually assaulted one woman.

The home invasion trial will resume this morning.

Laura C. Morel, Herald crime/immigration reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041.

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