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New trial for Carlie’s killer? Outrageous

The headline hits you like it was yesterday, not Nov. 18, 2005.

A jury of Joseph P. Smith’s peers rendered damning verdicts in a subdued Sarasota County courtroom that resonate more than three years later:

First-degree murder — GUILTY

Kidnapping — GUILTY

Capital sexual battery — GUILTY

It was a just conclusion to an emotionally charged, eight-day trial.

At long last, Smith, then 39, had been convicted of the heinous kidnapping, rape and murder of 11-year-old Carlie Brucia 22 months earlier.

Jurors recommended the death sentence Dec. 1.

Circuit Court Judge Andrew Owens concurred March 15, 2006, adding two life sentences.

And now the Public Defender’s Office in Bartow seeks a new trial.

For that monster?

Good God.

Among the issues:

n The FBI forensics expert who testified was not the person who did the DNA testing that helped convict Smith.

n Whether a medical examiner’s opinion should’ve been used since Carlie’s corpse was badly decomposed.

nThat statements by Smith’s brother should’ve been suppressed, given his cooperation with law enforcement.

I respect the importance of due process and that death sentences are appealed automatically.

Legally, it’s how the system works.

Morally, however, something is wrong with this picture.

Very wrong.

Fortified by a strong case, the state met its burden, proving “beyond a reasonable doubt” Smith was Carlie’s killer.

Yet the justice system seeks to give him more consideration than he gave her.

A new trial?

To what end?

Smith is where he belongs — on death row at a maximum security prison.

That this convicted murderer might win a new trial would be outrageous, a travesty, and a rebuke to Carlie’s family and a community that was traumatized by his atrocity.

On Dec. 1, 2005, before jurors deliberated Smith’s punishment, Assistant State Attorney Debra Riva asked them to imagine what was going through Carlie’s mind at the end, facing her horrible fate.

“She’s old enough to know what is happening to her,” Riva said. “When he placed the ligature around her neck, she knew what was going to happen next.”

The large, bold-faced headline in the next day’s Bradenton Herald still strikes home like a sledgehammer in its absolute finality:


Let it be.

Mannix About Manatee, is about people and issues in Manatee County. Please call Vin Mannix at 745-7055, write him at Bradenton Herald, P.O. Box 921, Bradenton, FL 34206 or e-mail him at