The Florida man convicted of kidnapping, sexually assaulting and killing 11-year-old Carlie Brucia in 2004 has died in prison as he awaited a resentencing hearing that could have saved him from death row.
Joseph Smith, 55, died in the custody of the Florida Department of Corrections on Monday, State Attorney Ed Brodsky said in a statement. Smith’s cause of death was not immediately provided.
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“While nothing can bring back Carlie, we are grateful that her family, her friends, and the entire Sarasota community will finally have closure and will not have to endure any further court proceedings to bring Smith to justice,” Brodsky said.
The case made national headlines after Smith was captured on surveillance footage grabbing Carlie by her arm and leading her away from Evie’s Car Wash in Sarasota on Feb. 1, 2004. Her body was found four days later behind Central Church of Christ. She was discovered naked from the waist down except for a sock on one foot.
Carlie’s father, Joseph Brucia, told FOX13 Tampa that he was “elated” after hearing of Smith’s death in prison.
“I feel wonderful,” he said. “It’s long overdue. The inept and corrupt criminal justice system could not get it done, so the natural order of things finally took care of it.”
During the 2005 trial, a jury handed down a guilty verdict after pouring over evidence for five hours and later sentenced Smith to death.
But since the jury did not vote unanimously on the death penalty (10-2), Smith last year was granted a resentencing hearing that was scheduled for next year. The Florida Supreme Court around that time had ruled that juries must be unanimous in sentencing a person to death.
The resentencing would not have affected the guilty verdict but could have potentially removed Smith from death row.
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Carlie’s mother, Susan Schorpen, did not live to see the death of her daughter’s killer. She died in 2017, aged 47, of a heroin overdose in Polk County.
After Smith’s guilty verdict, Schorpen had told reporters outside the courthouse that if she could speak to Smith, she would ask him “why he chose my daughter and why he had to kill her.”
“I lost one of the most precious things to me in my life because of an animal, a disgusting, perverted animal,” she said at the time.