Published January 13, 2015
A former mechanic and father of three girls has been found guilty of kidnapping, raping and killing 11-year-old Carlie Brucia, whose abduction was caught on a security-camera video.
A jury reached its verdict Thursday in the murder trial of Joseph P. Smith. The penalty phase is set to start Nov. 28. He faces the death penalty or life in prison.
Smith, 39, nodded but showed no surprise or other visible reaction when the verdict was handed down Thursday.
Carlie's relatives hugged and wept after the decision was read.
Her mother, Susan Schorpen, said outside the courthouse that she won't rest until Smith is dead, "when he meets his maker."
"I lost one of the most precious things to me in my life because of an animal, a disgusting, perverted animal," Schorpen said. "The fact that I can never hold her again, never see her again ... I am broken."
She said the laws regarding repeat offenders and probation violators need to change. Smith has a long criminal history and was in violation of his probation on a cocaine charge when he kidnapped and killed Carlie. But a judge declined to put him in jail after he failed to pay $411 in fines and court costs, saying Florida does not have a "debtor's prison."
"This should never have happened," Carlie's mother said. "He should never have been out of jail. I think he should be sentenced and taken care of that day."
Schorpen said she misses her daughter immensely.
"I wish she was here," she said. Carlie's father, Joe Brucia, said only that he was happy with the verdict as he left court.
Smith's attorney, Adam Tebrugge, made a brief statement outside the courthouse, saying he respected the jury's verdict and planned to fight for life in prison for his client.
The Sarasota County sheriff said he was "very satisfied" with the verdict.
"Our heart goes out to Carlie, and our heart goes out to the family," said the sheriff, his voice breaking.
Smith was found guilty of murder, sexual battery on a child under 12 and kidnapping.
After the decision was read, Smith was brought by sheriff's deputies to be fingerprinted in the courtroom.
Carlie's disappearance on Feb. 1, 2004, while walking home from a friend's house sparked a massive search for her in the Sarasota area. The half-naked body of the sixth-grader was found more than four days later at a church property.
Her abduction received worldwide attention after it was captured by a car-wash security camera and broadcast nationwide on television.
Smith was arrested after being identified as the burly, tattooed man seen taking the girl away by the arm in the fuzzy video.
Prosecutors said in closing arguments Wednesday that a "mountain" of evidence pointed to Smith's guilt.
Prosecutors built their case using the security-camera images of the abduction, the testimony of Smith's friends and co-workers who said they recognized Smith when they saw the images on television, forensics evidence and testimony from Smith's brother that he admitted to the crime.
Smith declined to testify, and Tebrugge waived the defense's right to make a closing argument.
Tebrugge conceded it was an unusual strategy but said making a closing argument would serve no purpose.
"I believe that I tried the best case possible," Tebrugge said. "I believe that we got all the information out, that we told the truth."
Defense attorneys faulted investigators for ruling out other suspects, raised questions about the reliability of an FBI lab where the evidence was analyzed and doubted the motives of Smith's brother, John, claiming he was interested in reward money.
The brother told jurors Smith had confessed to having "rough sex" with the girl and killing her, and then told him where the body was. Prosecutors played taped jailhouse conversations Smith made with his brother and others in which he 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.
Forensics experts linked Smith's DNA sample with a semen stain on Carlie's shirt and testified that Carlie's hair matched strands found in the vehicle Smith drove.
A medical examiner also testified that marks on Carlie's body indicated she had been bound, dragged and strangled from behind.
Before Carlie's death, Smith had been arrested at least 13 times since 1993, mostly on drug offenses, although he was twice charged with committing violence against women.
In one case, he was charged with kidnapping a 20-year-old woman, but was later acquitted. He pleaded no contest in the other case, in which a woman said he hit her in the face with a motorcycle helmet. He was sentenced to 60 days in a county jail.
His only prison time was about 17 months behind bars on drug possession and fraud charges.
The fact that Smith had recently violated the terms of his probation at the time of Carlie's killing spurred the introduction of federal and state legislation to crack down on probation violators.
U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris, R-Fla., introduced legislation, named at the time "Carlie's Law," that would expand the reasons that could get a convicted criminal on federal probation sent back to prison, adding violent felonies and child sex crimes to the list.
A trimmed-down version of the bill passed but was limited only to sex offenders. Smith hadn't been convicted of sex offenses before Carlie's death.
Carlie's slaying, as well as the bludgeoning deaths of six people in Deltona, also led Florida lawmakers to introduce a bill that would force judges to send violent probation violators to prison instead of granting them bail. That bill failed to pass last session.
But earlier this year, following the death of another girl allegedly by a convicted sex offender, Florida lawmakers 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 global positioning satellite after they are freed.
FOX News' Catherine Donaldson-Evans and The Associated Press contributed to this report.