Courts & Crime

Former federal prisoner arrested in string of Florida attacks

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Within weeks after he was released from federal prison late last year, Delmer Smith III began violently attacking Sarasota women in a string of home invasions, authorities say. The man police are calling a "monster" may also be responsible for several brutal home invasions this year in Manatee County.

Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube said his detectives will also look for any links between Smith and the Aug. 3 slaying of Kathleen Briles in her Terra Ceia home.

Smith, 38, a Michigan native who moved to Bradenton, Fla., is responsible for at least four attacks in Sarasota, Sheriff Tom Knight said in announcing Smith's arrest. Investigators also suspect Smith in similar crimes in Bradenton and unincorporated Manatee, starting with a Feb. 16 attack on a female jogger who was beaten at gunpoint.

A muti-agency task force has been investigating a string of 11 attacks in Sarasota and Manatee counties that all appeared similar.

Smith, a former federal inmate released in late 2008 on a bank robbery conviction in Michigan, first turned up on law enforcement’s radar in Venice, Fla., when the police department began investigating him after a bar fight. He became a suspect in a string of burglaries in the Venice area, and police found a federal warrant accusing him of violating his probation on the 1995 bank robbery conviction. He was arrested Sept. 11.

Venice police notified task force investigators of Smith after searching his home and finding laptop computers, which Sarasota detectives then identified as stolen from home invasion victims in Sarasota. Smith was jailed in Pinellas County on the probation violation, and a match was later made to DNA evidence found at the Sarasota home invasions.

“It took teamwork and great police work by all of the agencies involved to get this monster off the street,” said Venice Police Capt. Tom McNulty.

Smith, who moved to Bradenton after prison and married a woman here, is being held in Pinellas on four counts of armed home invasion, five counts of false imprisonment and two counts of sexual battery and aggravated battery. Authorities say he has also lived in Venice and Sarasota.

Sarasota sheriff’s detectives say the attacks there began Feb. 22, when two women reported a man wearing a black ski mask, gloves and black clothing entered their home in the 3500 block of Osage Terrace, and beat them both. The gunman sexually assaulted one of the women, then tied them up.

Detectives matched Smith’s DNA in September to evidence at the crime scene, and also found a cell phone stolen from the attack while searching Smith’s belongings, according to sheriff’s reports.

Smith has also been linked to a March 7 attack in Sarasota, in which a woman reported being attacked in her Bougainvillea Street backyard. At the time, she said a man hit her over the head with a bottle and beat her before forcing her into her home.

The man then bound and gagged her on her bed and robbed the home. A laptop from the home later turned up in Smith’s possession, and DNA from the scene also matched him, according to officials.