Florida mechanic returned guilty in murder of 11-year-old girl

More than a year after the abduction of her 11-year-old daughter was captured on a grainy video tape, Susan Schorpen wept softly as the juror read the verdict: Joseph Smith, a mechanic with a long criminal record, was guilty of murder. "Thank you," she said quietly before jurors left the courtroom.

Smith was convicted Thursday of kidnapping, raping and strangling Carlie Brucia, whose half-naked body was found outside a church more than four days after the sixth-grader disappeared in February 2004 while walking home from a friend's house.

"I can never hold her again. Where's the closure?" Schorpen said outside the courthouse. "I've lost one of the most precious things to me in my life because of an animal, a disgusting, perverted animal." Jurors planned to reconvene Nov. 28 to sentence Smith, 39, who could receive the death penalty. His attorney, Adam Tebrugge, said he would argue for a life sentence without parole.

Smith's friends and co-workers testified that he was the tattooed man pictured in a surveillance video from a car wash security camera who grabbed Carlie's wrist and led her away.

His brother, John Smith, also testified that Smith confessed to having "rough sex" with the girl and killing her, and told him where the body was. Prosecutors played taped jailhouse conversations Smith made with his brother and others in which Smith talked of being on drugs while committing the crimes.

An FBI code breaker translated an encrypted letter Smith wrote his sibling saying he had left Carlie's clothes and backpack in four trash bins.

Also, DNA analysis connected him to a semen stain on Carlie's shirt, and strands of hair from Smith's vehicle were found to match the girl's hair.

Smith's lawyers raised questions about the reliability of the FBI lab where the evidence was analyzed and challenged the motives of his brother, suggesting he was interested in the reward money.

Jurors also looked at graphic photos and a video from the crime scene and Carlie's autopsy, images that have become the center of a public records battle.

A federal appeals court ruled Thursday in favor of two media outlets _ the Sarasota Herald-Tribune newspaper and TV station WFLA _ that want to review the crime scene and autopsy photos and videotapes. Attorney General Charlie Crist quickly filed an emergency motion to block the ruling.

Before Carlie's slaying, Smith had been arrested at least 13 times since 1993, mostly on drug offenses. In one case, he was charged with kidnapping a 20-year-old woman, but was acquitted. He pleaded no contest in another case in which a woman said he hit her in the face with a motorcycle helmet. He was sentenced to 60 days in jail. At the time of the slaying, Smith was in violation of his probation on a cocaine charge because he failed to pay $411 in fines and court costs. But a judge declined to put him in jail, saying Florida does not have a "debtor's prison,” reports the AP. I.L.

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