SARASOTA, Fla. – A weeping Joseph Smith apologized Tuesday for the abduction, rape and murder of 11-year-old Carlie Brucia two years ago, telling a judge he had taken large amounts of cocaine and heroin that day in hopes of killing himself.
Smith told Circuit Judge Andrew Owens, who will sentence Smith to death or life in prison, that "I do not ask for mercy for myself. The only thing I can see to give me a life sentence is for my family. I do not want to see them hurt any further."
Carlie's February 2004 abduction drew worldwide attention because it was caught on a car wash surveillance tape. Smith, 39, was convicted in November. Friends and even Smith's brother said they recognized him as the burly mechanic grabbing the young girl's wrist as she walked home from a friend's house. Jurors recommended by a 10-2 vote that he be executed.
Smith told Owens he had been a heroin addict since he was 19 and had unsuccessfully tried to quit several times. He said his wife had kicked him out of their home in January 2004 and he had lost his job when in the hours before abducting Carlie he tried to overdose.
"I just wanted to die that day," he said. But, he said, "I take responsibility of my crimes."
On Monday, attorneys started two days of arguments before Owens, who will ultimately sentence Smith on March 15. Under Florida law, he must give the jury's recommendation "great weight."
Defense attorney Adam Tebrugge cited medical records as early as 1992 showing Smith had been involuntarily admitted to a hospital. Smith also had been arrested at least 13 times since 1993, mostly on drug offenses.
"The defendant repeatedly sought help for his problems, but was either denied help or received ineffective assistance for his problems," Tebrugge said.
Smith's 15-year-old niece, identified only as KS because of her age, was called to testify to his character Monday. The girl said she enjoyed seeing Smith at family holidays and barbecues and walking dogs together.
Carlie's friends and family members talked of their desperation and grief.
"Carlie's future and life have been stolen from her and from her family," her aunt Lori Brucia read on behalf of the girl's grandmother, Andrea Brucia. "We will never know her as a teenager.
"Our family is forever broken. Our nightmares about what you've done to her — our hearts will never heal."
Prosecutor Debra Riva read a letter from Carlie's mother, Susan Schorpen, who could not appear because she is jailed on drug charges. Schorpen said she had institutionalized herself three times, and was trying to self-medicate with drugs to numb the pain of losing her daughter.
Noel Gilliland, Carlie's former sixth-grade teacher, said two of the girl's friends failed the sixth grade after her slaying.