SARASOTA, Fla. – A mechanic with a long criminal record was convicted Thursday of kidnapping, raping and strangling an 11-year-old girl whose abduction was captured by a car-wash security camera.
Joseph Smith, 39, could get the death penalty.
The jury took about five hours to find him guilty in the slaying of Carlie Brucia, whose half-naked body was found outside a church more than four days after the sixth-grader disappeared in February 2004 while walking home from a friend's house.
Smith was arrested after being identified as the burly, tattooed man in a mechanic's uniform who was seen taking the girl by the wrist and leading her away in a grainy video that was broadcast nationwide during the search for the killer.
Prosecutors built their case on the footage, the testimony of Smith's friends and co-workers who said they recognized Smith in the video, DNA and hair-analysis evidence, and the word of the defendant's brother, who said Smith confessed.
Smith, who did not take the stand, showed no emotion when the verdict was read. The jury will return for the sentencing phase on Nov. 28.
Carlie's mother, Susan Schorpen, wept softly with her head bowed when the verdict was read, and the girl's father, Joe Brucia, nodded when each of the three convictions was announced. As he left court, he said only that he was happy with the verdict.
"I can never hold her again. Where's the closure?" Schorpen said outside the courthouse. "I've lost one of the most precious things to me in my life because of an animal, a disgusting, perverted animal."
When asked if she was satisfied with the verdict, she responded: "When he's dead. When he meets his maker."
Carlie's killing spurred the introduction of federal and state legislation to crack down on probation violators.
At the time of the slaying, Smith was in violation of the terms of his probation on a cocaine charge because he failed to pay $411 in fines and court costs. But a judge declined to put him in jail, saying Florida does not have a "debtor's prison."
At the trial, Smith's lawyers raised questions about the reliability of the FBI lab where the evidence was analyzed and challenged the motives of Smith's brother, John, suggesting he was interested in the reward money.
The brother told the jury Smith had confessed to having "rough sex" with the girl and killing her, and told him where the body was. Prosecutors played taped jailhouse conversations Smith made with his brother and others in which Smith talked of being on drugs while committing the crimes.
An FBI code breaker translated an encrypted letter Smith wrote his sibling saying he had left Carlie's clothes and backpack in four trash bins.
Also, DNA analysis connected him to a semen stain on Carlie's shirt, and strands of hair from Smith's vehicle were found to match the girl's hair.
Before Carlie's slaying, Smith had been arrested at least 13 times since 1993, mostly on drug offenses. In one case, he was charged with kidnapping a 20-year-old woman, but was acquitted. He pleaded no contest in another case in which a woman said he hit her in the face with a motorcycle helmet. He was sentenced to 60 days in jail. He also served 17 months in prison on drug possession and fraud charges.
After the slaying, Rep. Katherine Harris (news, bio, voting record), R-Fla., introduced legislation, named Carlie's Law, that would expand the reasons that could get a convicted criminal on federal probation sent back to prison. A version limited to sex offenders ultimately passed. Smith had not been convicted of sex offenses before Carlie's death.
Earlier this year, following the slaying of another Florida girl, allegedly by a convicted sex offender, Florida passed a law establishing a mandatory sentence of 25 years to life behind bars for people convicted of certain sex crimes against children 11 and younger, with lifetime tracking by satellite after they are freed.
Meanwhile Thursday, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of two media outlets that want to review crime scene and autopsy photos and videotapes of Carlie. Attorney General Charlie Crist quickly filed an emergency motion to block the ruling.
Earlier this week, the trial court had ruled against the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and TV station WFLA.