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Ex-mechanic in Florida convicted of abducting, killing 11-year-old girl

Security camera video provided key evidence

SARASOTA, Fla. -- The grainy images captured by a security camera at a car wash were chilling: a burly, tattooed man in a mechanic's uniform grabs the wrist of an 11-year-old girl and leads her away. Carlie Brucia's half-naked body turned up several days later outside a church.

Jurors concluded yesterday that a former mechanic was the man in those images, which were broadcast nationwide during the search for the girl's killer. After deliberating five hours, they convicted Joseph Smith, 39, of kidnapping, raping, and strangling the girl. He could get the death penalty.

Prosecutors built their case on the footage, the testimony of Smith's friends and co-workers who said they recognized him in the video, DNA and hair analysis evidence, and the word of the defendant's brother, who said Smith had confessed. The girl had been abducted while walking home from a friend's house.

Smith, who did not take the stand, showed no emotion when the verdict was read. The jury will return for the sentencing phase on Nov. 28.

Brucia's mother, Susan Schorpen, wept softly with her head bowed when the verdict was read, and the girl's father, Joe Brucia, nodded when each of the three convictions was announced. As he left court, he said only that he was happy with the verdict.

''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."

When asked whether she was satisfied with the verdict, she said: ''When he's dead. When he meets his maker."

The girl's slaying spurred the introduction of federal and state legislation to crack down on probation violators.

At the time of the slaying, Smith was in violation of the terms 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."

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

The brother told the jury that Smith had 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 to his sibling that said he had left the girl's clothes and backpack in four trash bins.

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

Before the girl'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.

Earlier this year, following the slaying of another Florida girl, allegedly by a convicted sex offender, Florida passed a law establishing a mandatory sentence of 25 years to life for people convicted of certain sex crimes against children 11 and younger, with lifetime tracking by satellite after they are freed.

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