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New Death Penalty Law Could Mean Re-Sentencing of Carlie Brucia's Killer

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SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) --"When he's executed and I get to go up there and watch him, then that'll be my closure," said the stepfather of Carlie Brucia, Steven Kansler. "I will feel that she's been set free." 

Now though, Kansler may never have that closure, thanks to a new Florida law concerning the death penalty.

It was February of 2004 when Sarasota 11-year-old Carlie Brucia went missing. The case drew national attention after surveillance video showed a man named Joseph Smith taking Brucia from behind a car wash on Bee Ridge Road.

After days of searching, investigators found her body in a wooded area behind a Sarasota church.  Smith was found guilty of abducting, raping and killing her. He was sentenced to death.

Now more than a decade later, Smith is still alive in jail, and is now appealing his sentence before Sarasota County Judge Andrew Owens, arguing his sentence is no longer valid under new Florida Law.

"There have been a series of court decisions from the Supreme Court and the Florida Supreme Court that effect more than half the people on Florida's death row," said defense attorney in the 2004 case, Adam Tebrugge. "Among those people is Joseph Smith." 

This comes after the U.S. Supreme Court found Florida's death penalty to be unconstitutional, placing too much power in the hands of a judge and not enough in the hands of the jury. Governor Rick Scott signed a bill into law that requires a unanimous jury recommendation before the death penalty can be imposed. It's retroactive. That means dozens of cases long thought closed could now be revisited, including Smith's.

"It appears almost certain that Joseph Smith's death sentence will be reversed," said Tebrugge, "and his case will go back to Sarasota County for a new re-sentencing trial."

Many feel Smith's sentence should stay intact, including State Attorney for the 12th Judicial Circuit Ed Brodsky who said, "we've made our arguments and hope the sentence will remain in place."

But Tebrugge says it's the duty of the justice system to revisit each and every case that was not recommended by a unanimous jury.

"Florida has been making this mistake in case after case and it resulted in 400 people on death row," said Tebrugge. "I think those mistakes have to be fixed."