SARASOTA, Fla. – The two parties responsible for supervising the man suspected in the slaying of an 11-year-old girl pointed fingers at each other Friday for not putting him behind bars in December.
"As far as this individual being out on the street, I really find the decisions made by some of these judges very questionable," Joe Brucia said. "He should never have been out on the streets."
Smith has a lengthy criminal past that includes at least 13 arrests and a string of probation assignments. Court records show him as a chronic drug abuser who has been arrested repeatedly for prescription drug fraud, cocaine use and heroin possession.
Both Circuit Judge Harry Rapkin (search) and the Florida Department of Corrections (search) denied wrongdoing in the handling of Smith's case when he fell behind in paying his court fines in December and could have been jailed.
Rapkin said a probation officer did not provide information to show that the often-unemployed Smith was willfully refusing to pay his fines. Rapkin spoke out Friday because he said his role has been misunderstood and he is now getting death threats from outraged citizens.
Corrections Secretary James V. Crosby Jr. (search) countered that the judge never called for a hearing during which a probation officer would have presented evidence against Smith. Instead, the judge put a "sticky note" on the file saying: "I need evidence that this was willful. Did he have the ability to pay?" and initialed it.
Smith has been charged with murder in the slaying of Carlie Brucia, whose body was discovered Friday in a wooded area near a Sarasota church. The girl was abducted Sunday night on her way home from a friend's house.
Smith was being supervised by a probation officer in Sarasota who since August had sent the judge two notices that Smith was violating his probation.
Neither violation resulted in Smith being jailed. Rapkin, who assumed Smith's case when he took over a division from another judge, never actually saw Smith in his courtroom.
Smith tested positive for drug use in August, but the probation officer noted that the test could have been affected by Smith's use of prescription painkillers and antidepressants. The second violation came when Smith fell behind in his court payments, a $411 bill that was to be paid by the fall.
Rapkin said because Florida does not have a "debtors prison," he could not jail Smith for simply falling behind in payments. He said that is a frequent occurrence for people on probation, but then they usually catch up.
"If I thought that not signing a warrant caused this girl's death, I'd quit," Rapkin said. "I couldn't live with myself. But that didn't' happen. I did my job."
But Crosby said under the rules of the Sarasota Circuit, the probation officer had no choice but to wait for Rapkin to call a hearing and then act.
Crosby said he believes probation officers kept Smith under as close a watch as possible and reported him every time they caught him violating the terms of his probation.
"It's a shame that we go to try to find a person who has done their job as a probation officer and try to make them a scapegoat," he said.