SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) – There is overwhelming evidence Joseph Smith raped and strangled 11-year-old Carlie Brucia after an abduction that was captured by a surveillance camera, prosecutors told jurors Monday. But the defense said alternate suspects weren’t properly checked out.
Attorneys presented their opening statements in the trial of Smith, a 39-year-old former auto mechanic and father of three daughters. Smith could be sentenced to death if he is convicted in Carlie’s slaying, which rocked this community and attracted wide attention after her apparent abduction was shown on TV around the world.
Prosecutor Debra Johnes Riva told jurors how investigators discovered the videotape at a car wash as they retraced the route Carlie would have taken home from a friend’s house on Feb. 1, 2004, and how it was used to link Smith to her abduction.
Carlie’s body was found four nights later on the grounds of a nearby church after Smith told relatives where to find it, Riva said. DNA found on her body came from him, she said.
Smith, who had a drug problem and a long rap sheet, was identified by people who contacted authorities after the 10-second video was shown on television.
“Carlie’s body will tell you the rest of the story,” Riva told the jury, describing how the girl’s decomposed body was clad in a red shirt “pushed up over her chest … naked from the waist down.”
As Riva spoke Monday, he sat nearly motionless, looking at her or occasionally looking down at the defense table.
Smith’s attorney, Adam Tebrugge, told jurors that investigators got the names of numerous suspects after the videotape was shown, including a man who lived at the friend’s house where Carlie had spent the previous night. But even though the man had told investigators he had discussed sexual topics with Carlie, Smith became their primary suspect almost immediately.
“Once the (Sarasota County) Sheriff’s Office and the FBI decided that Joe was the person, none of these other leads was investigated,” he said.
Tebrugge also raised questions about the DNA evidence that Riva mentioned, saying steps must be taken to reduce the possibility of contamination.
“Modern-day DNA testing is so sensitive that even a few nanograms of DNA will show up on the test,” he said.
The opening statements came after attorneys spent two weeks screening prospective jurors and seated a panel Friday. Tebrugge had asked Circuit Judge Andrew Owens to move the trial, arguing that too many people in the community had seen the video. But Owens denied the motion.
After Smith was charged with Carlie’s slaying, news that he had recently violated probation prompted an outcry among those who felt he should have been in jail. He had been arrested at least 13 times since 1993, mostly on drug offenses, but twice on charges of committing violence against women. He served only one short prison sentence.