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New sentencing hearing ordered for killer in 2004 Sarasota case

11-year-old Carlie Brucia was kidnapped, raped and murdered in February 2004 in Sarasota.
11-year-old Carlie Brucia was kidnapped, raped and murdered in February 2004 in Sarasota.
Updated: May. 17, 2021 at 8:16 AM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (News Service of Florida) - The Florida Supreme Court on Friday ordered a new sentencing hearing for a man who killed 11-year-old Carlie Brucia 17 years ago in Sarasota County, in a case that drew national attention.

Justices issued a unanimous, one-paragraph order directing a new hearing for Joseph Smith, now 55, who was convicted in the 2004 murder. The order came more than two months after Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office acknowledged in a court filing that Smith should be resentenced because of rulings last year by the Supreme Court in other cases.

Those rulings came after a series of complicated death-penalty developments that began in early 2016 when the U.S. Supreme Court found Florida’s death-penalty system unconstitutional because it gave too much authority to judges, instead of juries, in imposing death sentences.

Last month, the attorney general’s office made clear it was begrudgingly acknowledging that Smith’s case should be sent back to the circuit court for a new sentencing hearing. The move does not affect Smith’s conviction in the murder and sexual assault of Carlie Brucia.

The attorney general’s office in March also acknowledged the need for new sentencing hearings for several other convicted murders. Along with Smith, the Supreme Court on Friday ordered new hearings for David Sylvester Frances, Pinkney W. Carter, Gerald Delane Murray, Brandon Lee Bradley.

Carlie Brucia was found dead after being kidnapped from a car wash on Bee Ridge Road near her home Feb. 1, 2004, while returning from a friend’s house. She was reported missing by her parents within half an hour of her abduction.

The kidnapping case garnered national attention after a surveillance video showing the girl being kidnapped surfaced. The video, taken from a security camera, shows Brucia being grabbed by a man, later identified as Smith. The video prompted a massive manhunt for the abductor.

Smith was also suspected in the 2000 murder of 25-year-old Tara Reilly, who was found lying dead and naked in a pond behind Walmart on Cortez Road in Bradenton. That case has never been solved.

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