SARASOTA, Fla. – Carlie Brucia was a thoughtful, bubbly girl — an A-student who liked to sing off-key to make her mother laugh and had a fondness for shoes, her parents and a teacher told the jurors who will help decide whether her killer should be executed.
"I lost the love of my life," Susan Schorpen, the 11-year-old girl's mother, said Monday while fighting back tears and taking deep breaths from the witness stand. "I cry for her at all hours of the day. I cry for her at night. I'm broken. I will never heal."
Outside the courthouse, she said, "I'd like him dead today."
But relatives and friends of Joseph Smith testified on the first day of his trial's sentencing phase that they would support the former auto mechanic and write letters to him if he were sentenced to life in prison without parole. His aunt, a cousin and a former girlfriend described him as a talented handyman and mechanic who was ready to help anybody with their cars or home improvement projects.
Defense attorneys showed jurors pictures of Smith as a child, with his daughters and other relatives. They also played a DVD of Smith, 39, making a toast at his cousin's wedding.
"He would do anything I asked him to do," said Jean Dwyer, his aunt. "He was like a second son."
Jurors convicted Smith on Nov. 17 of kidnapping, sexual battery and first-degree murder. Carlie's murder received worldwide attention because her Feb. 1, 2004, abduction as she walked home from a friend's house was captured by a car wash surveillance camera. Her death spurred the introduction of federal and state legislation to crack down on probation violators.
A former teacher, Susan Van Alstine, described Carlie as an "excellent student" who once got other students to sign a goodbye note of gratitude for her. Carlie's father, Joseph Brucia, recounted visits to an amusement park and shoe-shopping trips when his daughter visited him in Long Island, N.Y., during Christmas and the summer.
"When Carlie was taken from our family, it hurt us to the core," Brucia said. "Many times, I didn't want to go on and was close to taking my own life."
Jurors must consider aggravating circumstances that would justify a recommendation of death by lethal injection and mitigating circumstances that would persuade jurors to recommend life in prison without parole. Their vote does not have to be unanimous.
Circuit Judge Andrew Owens, who ultimately will decide the sentence, said he would consider the jurors' recommendation with "great weight."
Smith's desire to avoid arrest for the abduction and sexual battery of the girl was one of six "aggravators" that justify a recommendation of death, prosecutor Debra Riva told jurors Monday as she opened the trial's penalty phase.
Smith wanted "to eliminate Carlie as a witness," Riva said. "The defendant did not have to kill the girl."
Other aggravating circumstances include the fact that Smith was on probation for possession of cocaine at the time of the murder; he committed the murder while engaged in other crimes; the murder was "heinous, atrocious and cruel" and "cold, calculated and premeditated" and Carlie was under 12, Riva said.
But defense attorney Carolyn DaSilva asked jurors to recommend sparing Smith's life. She noted that he had battled back pain, depression and drug addiction for the past dozen years, and said relatives, friends and a drug-addiction expert would testify how "a man with good qualities could have fallen so far."
"You will hear from witnesses who can tell you about Joe's good qualities ... even though he was unable to control his drug addiction," DaSilva said. "You will hear from people who care about Joseph Smith, and that his life has value."
An alternate juror was excused Monday morning after writing the judge a letter explaining his need to be released for personal reasons. Another alternate juror also told the judge that a friend had figured out that she was on the jury, but she told the judge it wouldn't affect her rendering a recommendation.