A death row inmate who was responsible for the kidnapping, rape, and murder of an 11-year-old girl in 2004 may not be put to death due, in part, to a technicality. Video evidence presented at the trial over a decade ago showed the man grabbing the girl from an empty parking lot before dragging her out of frame. Now his sentence is in jeopardy.
In 2004, Joseph Smith was found guilty and sentenced to death for the killing of 11-year-old Carlie Brucia. The jury voted 10-2 that he should be put to death via lethal injection.
Smith was one of the few inmates who appealed his death row sentence in wake of the 2016 Supreme Court case ruling Florida’s death penalty unconstitutional. In wake of the new ruling, jurors must unanimously come to the decision of sentencing an inmate to death.
Smith’s sentence, which was national news at the time, has been vacated. According to CBS News, Smith has a lengthy record and was homeless with a drug addiction when he raped and killed the pre-teen.
The ruling comes despite surveillance video, which was a contributing factor during the 2004 trial, of Smith approaching Brucia in an empty parking lot. He is seen grabbing the young girl’s arm and leading her away.
Smith was arrested shortly after and he confessed to the crime and told law enforcement they could find her body on the grounds of a nearby church, according to the Daily Mail.
Since being sentenced to death row, Smith has tried repeatedly to have his sentence overturned. In 2006, a bill was signed called “Carlie’s Law,” which would ensure criminals who violated their federal probation receive a more severe sentence.
After struggling to come to terms with her daughter’s death, Susan Schorpen, Brucia’s mother, died of a drug overdose last year at the age of 47. During the trial, Schorpen referred to Smith as an “animal.”
In the closing arguments of the 2004 trial, Schorpen told the court: “He’s still breathing, and my daughter isn’t. … He couldn’t be dead fast enough for me.” Smith will have new sentence date in the near future in the lower courts.