SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - The State of Florida plans to pursue the death penalty against the man convicted of abducting, raping and killing an 11-year-old Sarasota girl.
Joseph Smith was convicted of the February 2004 murder of Carlie Brucia. The case drew national attention after surveillance video showed a man, later identified as 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 in 2006 of abducting, raping and killing her. A jury voted 10-2 to sentence him to death.
Steven Kansler, Brucia’s stepfather, said, "When [Smith is] executed and I get to go up there and watch him, then that’ll be my closure. I will feel that she’s been set free. Right now I feel like she is floating around up there and stuck in limbo.”
But now, more than a decade later, it’s possible Smith will be moved off of death row. Smith has appealed his sentence, arguing it’s no longer valid.
In 2016, the United States Supreme Court stuck down Florida’s death penalty sentencing requirements as unconstitutional. State lawmakers passed a new law requiring 10 out of 12 jurors to vote in favor of death. Florida’s Supreme Court struck down that law as unconstitutional. Lawmakers drafted a new sentencing law requiring a unanimous jury vote to put someone to death. In March 2018, Governor Rick Scott signed it into law. Now, hundreds of death row inmates can appeal their sentences, including Smith.
Adam Tebrugge, Smith’s defense attorney from the 2004 case, said, "It appears almost certain that Joseph Smith’s death sentence will be reversed and his case will go back to Sarasota County for a new re-sentencing trial.”
That re-sentencing trial is moving forward and Smith is due in court on Friday for a motion hearing. Recent documents filed by the State of Florida make it clear that they will be seeking the death penalty in this case, arguing that there are several aggravating factors to the murder, including:
- Smith is a previously convicted felon who killed Brucia while on felony probation
- The murder was committed during other crimes, including kidnapping, sexual battery and child abuse
- The murder was committed to prevent Smith’s re-arrest
- The crime is especially heinous, atrocious or cruel
- The victim was under the age of 12
Many have argued that Smith’s death sentence should remain intact, including Ed Brodsky, State Attorney for the 12th Judicial Circuit, who said, "We’ve made our arguments and hope the sentence will remain in place.”
Ron Kruzel was the jury foreman in Smith's trial. He still stands by his decision.
"There was no question that Joe Smith was guilty. No question at all. You had to see the pictures. You had to realize the life that was taken and how it was taken. I will use the word heinous evil."
Kruzel says he's certain Smith should stay there.
“He will die eventually. Whether he dies in prison or whether he dies on the table with IVs in his arm, he’s going to die,” Kruzel said. “At that point, he’ll be faced with what he’s done in his life, just like we all are.”