Judge delays decision on whether to reinstate death sentence in case where 11-year-old Sarasota girl was raped, murdered

Death Row Sentencing

SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - A final decision was not made on Tuesday morning on whether the man convicted of murdering Carlie Brucia will have his death sentence reinstated.

More than a decade ago a 10-2 jury voted in favor of Joseph Smith to get the death penalty in Brucia's 2004 kidnapping, rape and murder.

Joseph Smith was convicted of the February 2004 murder of 11-year-old 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.

The case was reopened because of a change of law asking for the jury to be unanimous in their decision causing Smiths death sentence to be tossed out.

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.

Smith’s death sentence was thrown out because the decision was not unanimous and he’s been granted a new sentencing phase, which was supposed to happen this year.

Last month the State Attorney’s Office asked the court to reinstate the original sentencing, citing other a new opinion by the state Supreme Court on a different case. Prosecutors said in court the opinion had multiple instances where Justices said the change of law on the death penalty was wrong.

The opinion made this January could overrule the initial decision made two years ago on the state’s death penalty.

The defense attorney says on the same day that opinion came out, another one relating to the same issue came out and didn’t outline any error in the unanimous vote decision.

He says the Attorney General has until the 22nd to decide if they will rehear that Supreme Court case.

In the meantime, the judge says he'll wait for the opinion to be finalized to make a decision on smiths case.

“However they come back. Whether they deny the motion for rehearing an outright issue of mandate, whether they clarify and issue of mandate or come up with an entirely different opinion. I think regardless of which three of those they choose, I think we are required to come back to court,” said 12th Judicial Circuit Judge Charles Roberts.

Family friends of the victim say this isn't fair and Smith should be on death row.

The case may be 16 years old, but it remains fresh for those who knew and loved Carlie.

“I just feel like people need to remember her. I loved her and it’s important for people not to forget,” said a family friend of the victim, Cheri Langworthy.

The Sarasota County States Attorney’s Office is one of those group of people who say they’ll continue to advocate for Carlie.

In a statement sent to ABC7, States Attorney Ed Brodsky said he’s hopeful the court will reinstate Smiths sentencing in light of the recent decision made by the Supreme Court.

The State Attorney’s Office cited other reasons the court should reinstate the sentence, including the “incalculable emotional toll on the victim’s family members” and that the murder was “especially heinous, atrocious, and cruel.”

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