SARASOTA, Fla. – A judge declined to impose a gag order (search) Friday in the case against an auto mechanic charged in the videotaped abduction and slaying of 11-year-old Carlie Brucia (search), but said he won't rule out such an order in the future.
Circuit Judge Andrew D. Owens' decision came in response to a motion by Joseph P. Smith's (search) attorney, Assistant Public Defender Adam Tebrugge, which asked that everyone associated with the case be prohibited from talking to the media about it.
Owens said Tebrugge could file a more specific request for a gag order, and wrote that he "will not hesitate" to revisit the ruling if he thinks it's necessary.
Tebrugge had argued that pervasive publicity had already damaged Smith's prospects of getting a fair trial and made it difficult to investigate the case. Carlie's Feb. 1 abduction from a car wash parking lot was captured by a surveillance camera and the tape was broadcast worldwide.
Attorneys for local media outlets argued against the motion, saying intense coverage of an event, in and of itself, does not make a gag order necessary.
In his ruling, Owens admonished attorneys from both sides to adhere to the rules governing what statements they can make about pending cases. He also ordered prosecutors to explain those restrictions to law enforcement officers.
He noted that "little, if any" media coverage to date includes law officers revealing facts about the discovery of the girl's body or evidence recovered during the investigation.
Owens also denied a motion by Tebrugge to seal documents filed about Smith's prosecution, calling the request "overbroad." However, the judge did agree to consider sealing evidence on a case-by-case basis.
Tebrugge did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Investigators believe Smith was the man captured on the car wash surveillance video grabbing Carlie by the arm and walking off with her as she headed home from a friend's house Feb. 1. He is charged with first-degree murder and kidnapping.
Smith was arrested Feb. 3 after acquaintances recognized him on the video shown on TV news and called police. Carlie's body was found Feb. 6 near a church three miles from the car wash after Smith told a jailhouse visitor where to find her, according to the arrest affidavit.
A pair of public memorial services in Sarasota this week, one at the church where her body was found, each drew more than 1,000 mourners.