SARASOTA, Fla. – Jurors in the trial of a man accused of raping and strangling 11-year-old Carlie Brucia intently watched security camera images Monday of a man grabbing her in a parking lot.
Some jurors sat on the edges of their seats and others watched with fingers pressed to their lips as the images flickered on a TV screen. They showed a man taking 11-year-old Carlie's arm and walking her out of view of the camera posted outside a Sarasota car wash.
Prosecutors said in opening statements there is overwhelming evidence that the man in the images is Joseph Smith, a 39-year-old former auto mechanic and father of three daughters. But the defense contended the evidence is inconclusive and other suspects weren't properly checked out following the slaying, which attracted wide attention after the images were shown around the world.
"The defendant used power and control to abduct, sexually batter and kill 11-year-old Carlie," said prosecutor Debra Riva.
Riva said they learned of the security-camera images as they retraced the route Carlie would have taken home from a friend's house on Feb. 1, 2004. Her stepfather, Steve Kansler, testified that it was unusual for the girl not to come home since "Carlie was a responsible person."
Carlie's body was found four nights after her disappearance on the grounds of a nearby church after Smith told relatives where to find it, Riva said. From jail, Smith had called his brother on a cell phone, and his brother led detectives to the scene.
"Carlie's body will tell you the rest of the story," Riva told the jury. She said marks on her wrists suggested they had been restrained, and that Smith had strangled the girl from behind.
As Riva spoke Monday, Smith sat nearly motionless, looking at her or occasionally looking down at the defense table. The defendant, charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping and capital sexual battery, has pleaded not guilty. He could be sentenced to death if he is convicted in the slaying.
Smith's attorney, Adam Tebrugge, told jurors that investigators got the names of numerous suspects after the camera images were shown, including that of a man who lived at the friend's house where Carlie had spent the previous night. But, he said, Smith became their primary suspect almost immediately.
"Once the (Sarasota County) Sheriff's Office and the FBI decided that Joe was the person, none of these other leads was investigated," he said.
Tebrugge also raised questions about DNA evidence, citing past cases in which he said "maverick" FBI lab employees had made false reports.
He questioned the motives of Smith's brother, John, saying that the brothers had feuded and that John was angry at Joseph Smith.
"Please keep an open mind and approach the evidence with a certain degree of skepticism," Tebrugge urged the jurors.