Update on Delmer Smith: Another Murder By DNA Database Neglect

Delmer Smith (see The Guilty Project, here), who managed to get away with at least dozen extremely violent crimes before being identified because the F.B.I. didn’t bother to load his DNA into the federal database, is now being charged in the murder of Kathleen Briles.  Dr. James Briles found his wife’s body in their home.

Kathy Briles, mother of three, would be alive today if the government and our criminal courts bothered to prioritize the lives of victims with half the vigilance they direct towards the rights of offenders.  Pro-offender activists, who hammer away at every effort to monitor violent offenders who have been returned to the streets, are culpable too.

But nobody prioritizes victims, except the police.  Victims remain expendable.

Delmer Smith

Here is Dr. Briles:

MANATEE — Dr. James Briles finally got the chance to focus his rage on someone Thursday, more than six months after finding his wife bound, gagged and beaten to death in a pool of blood in the living room of their Terra Ceia home.

Manatee Sheriff Brad Steube announced that Delmer Smith III — already charged with beating and raping several women in their Sarasota homes — has been served with a warrant charging him with murder in the death of Kathleen Briles on Aug. 3.

Detectives say Smith, 38, bludgeoned the 49-year-old woman to death with an iron antique sewing machine, before stealing several items from the house.

After Steube told a room full of media of Smith’s arrest, Dr. Briles spoke on behalf of his sons, Calvin and Curtis, and daughter Kristen Venema, saying Smith deserves “no quarter.”

“Let me say a little bit about Delmer Smith,” said Briles, who found his wife’s body after returning home from work. “He is a coward, a sociopath and a punk. His sole purpose is to inflict suffering.”

Briles said Smith is not only in jail to protect the public from him, but to “protect him from us.” He spoke of his anger, and the horrifying discovery of his wife.

“Am I angry? Oh yeah,” he said. “You’d understand that if you saw what I saw when I came home.”

Good for him.  He’s got every right to be angry:

Investigators also believe Briles’ death might have been avoided, if not for a backlog in the entry of DNA samples into an FBI database.

The FBI had Smith’s DNA, taken while he was in federal prison on a bank robbery conviction. But since it had not been entered into the database, there was no match when Sarasota detectives last spring submitted evidence from four earlier home invasion attacks.

There wasn’t a match until after Smith was arrested for a bar fight in Venice, and after detectives asked the FBI to enter his DNA into the database.

And after Kathleen Briles was dead.

More coverage.

Part of the story here is police performance.  The cops came through when federal parole agents did not.  Venice Captain Tom McNulty (who also helped put my rapist away for good, after various judges and parole officials cut him serial breaks for two decades), was among investigators in two counties who made the cognitive leap to tie Smith to the home invasion crimes and hold him pending DNA analysis — after Smith was arrested in an unrelated bar fight.

Had that fight happened in any one of a thousand other jurisdictions, there is a good chance Smith would have walked away from jail and been free to keep committing crimes.

Delmer Smith is only one of several serial killers and rapists who have literally gotten away with murder thanks to lax sentencing, nonexistent parole, and failure to enforce DNA database laws — a systematic neglect of legal reforms that cost countless women their lives.  There’s John Floyd Thomas, suspected of killing some 30 women in Los Angeles — his first rape conviction was in 1957.  There’s Walter E. Ellis, who killed at least nine women, and managed to avoid detection because Wisconsin officials failed to bother to hold him responsible for submitting another inmate’s DNA as his own before releasing him from prison.

How many more Delmer Smiths are out there?  One is too many.


5 thoughts on “Update on Delmer Smith: Another Murder By DNA Database Neglect”

  1. All well and good, except this? “Another Murder By DNA Database Neglect”. Again, is pretty damn common. Everywhere you care to look. Most large cities & ‘busy’ jurisdictions can’t be bothered to even process years old rape kits. There are yes, 100K+ of them lying around on dusty evidence shelves (or ‘cold storage’ lockers) loosing effectiveness & slowly degrading year by year in almost all our major cities. This is not a ‘feds vs local’ issue. It’s a ‘neglecting to process or recognize the importance of vital evidence’ issue. And a denigration of the crime of rape. Again. I’ve mentioned this issue here a few times, and seemingly it does not make much of an impression. The cops are not always the ‘white hats’ here. They can be as bureaucratically inept and clueless as any other mid level bureaucrats.

    So the question almost answers itself: “How many more Delmer Smiths are out there? One is too many”. Evidently not. There are potentially 1000’s. Easily. And it’s the lack of urgency and/or proper understanding of the need for proper data entry, integration, maintenance & proper use of DNA databases that actually causes some of the problems seen here. Again, what to do about it? The first thing someone might want to do is finally admit we’ve got a problem, right? And it’s staring you in the face. No amount of pro-victim rhetoric or advocacy is going to help this issue get resolved until we call it for what it is: rank incompetence, and a clear lack of understanding of the utility of the realms of vital & essential evidence possibly being lost here. That’s the bottom line. Moving from a 19th c. mindset to something more modern perhaps.

  2. You’re right, JP. In this case, though, I think the police did an exemplary job.

    Bureaucracy is the key — and I welcome your thoughts on that. What happened in New York City in the 1990’s, for example, was not just smarter policing (and much of THAT was bureaucratic overhaul), but also a commitment by different entities — namely the prosecutor’s office, the courts, and the police — to work together in more efficient ways. If all three aren’t cooperating, and on the same page about public safety, gradually everyone’s performance collapses.

    Unfortunately, in most jurisdictions, there is a major disconnect between law enforcement and the courts — and I lay much of the blame on court culture, which is often guided by the anti-incarceration ideology I write about frequently.

    For example, when police can’t expect a DA to vigorously prosecute certain types of cases, they’re less likely to pursue them, shifting limited resources to other places. Unfortunately, the public rarely hears about chaos in the DA’s office, or the courts — investigative news coverage tends to go no farther than what’s happening on the streets.

    I also agree that there are thousands of Delmer Smiths — not all as violent, but certainly many thousands of sociopath predators who have been given too many second chances.

    99% of “victim rights” and “victim advocacy” is really service provision — counseling, courtroom aid. And those are good things — but it’s not political pressure, except when people come together to push one particular bill, which almost never has to do with dealing with the problems of recidivism, lax sentencing, and courtroom dysfunction. We have all sorts of laws on the books that the courts just don’t enforce, or use loopholes to avoid. The most promising movement I’ve seen in recent years is courtroom-watching, but most court-watching programs are run through DA’s offices and are thus co-opted by the DA’s agenda.

    I don’t think we’ll get anywhere until we can force the judiciary to make their decisions transparent and accessible. The technology to do so exists right now, and it isn’t expensive, but of course judges (and often DAs) don’t want the public to know precisely how many offenders get a free walk.

    Until we know exactly what is happening with offenders after they are arrested, we’re going to keep having thugs like Delmer Smith on the streets.

  3. Again, all decent and sensible recommendations. And they really need massive bureaucratic reforms & reorganizations, as NYC shows. But still, it’s in the mishandling of the basic evidence that plenty of perps & future criminals somehow manage to ‘slip thought the cracks’. And that’s unforgivable & unconscionable, especially given that the evidence is there, just degrading & unrecognized & not acted upon probably in each and every evidence locker in the nation. And it works well when it’s just given a chance to work too!

    The court watching will always fall to the victims and the few beleaguered victims advocates to try and do it best. Few have the time & inclination to do so otherwise. Better tracking would certainly help, but as in most bureaucracies they’re always wary about people looking in over their shoulder. Hence it’ll constantly get low priority unless & until it’s consistently a major political cause for some powerful group, and not just meaningless slogans they all mouth before elections. It’s not just the court culture that’s failing here, it’s the political culture too certainly. We certainly need more & better tracking so we can comprehend the problem in all it’s dimensions.

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