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Lawyers Ask Judge to Spare Killer’s Life

February 14, 2006

SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) _ Lawyers fighting to save the man who abducted 11-year-old Carlie Brucia outside a car wash, then raped and killed her, urged a judge to consider his mental problems and prolonged drug abuse before sentencing him.

The February 2004 abduction was caught on a surveillance tape, and Joseph Smith, 39, was convicted in November. Friends and even Smith’s brother said they recognized him as the burly mechanic holding the young girl’s wrist. Jurors recommended by a 10-2 vote that he be executed.

On Monday, attorneys started two days of arguments before Circuit Judge Andrew Owens, who will ultimately sentence Smith on March 15. Under Florida law, he must give the jury’s recommendation ``great weight.″

Defense attorney Adam Tebrugge cited medical records as early as 1992 showing Smith had been involuntarily admitted to a hospital. Smith also had been arrested at least 13 times since 1993, mostly on drug offenses.

``The defendant repeatedly sought help for his problems, but was either denied help or received ineffective assistance for his problems,″ Tebrugge said.

Smith’s 15-year-old niece, identified only as KS because of her age, was called to testify to his character Monday. The girl said she enjoyed seeing Smith at family holidays and barbecues and walking dogs together.

Carlie’s friends and family members talked of their desperation and grief.

``Carlie’s future and life have been stolen from her and from her family,″ her aunt Lori Brucia read on behalf of the girl’s grandmother, Andrea Brucia. ``We will never know her as a teenager.

``Our family is forever broken. Our nightmares about what you’ve done to her _ our hearts will never heal.″

Prosecutor Debra Riva read a letter from Carlie’s mother, Susan Schorpen, who could not appear because she is jailed on drug charges. Schorpen said she had institutionalized herself three times, and was trying to self-medicate with drugs to numb the pain of losing her daughter.

Noel Gilliland, Carlie’s former sixth-grade teacher, said two of the girl’s friends failed the sixth grade after her slaying.

Smith sat expressionless through most of the proceedings in a yellow corrections jumpsuit, conferring occasionally with his lawyers.

He didn’t testify during his three-week trial, but offered at the end to read the jury a letter admitting his crimes. Smith had told his brother while in jail where Carlie’s body was located. It was found five days after she disappeared in some brush on church property.

Tebrugge would not say whether Smith would speak on his own behalf at Tuesday’s hearing.

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