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Records in the Brucia case will stay sealed

Some information may be released after a judge reviews an appellate court order.

By AARON SHAROCKMAN
Published June 23, 2005


SARASOTA - Hundreds of pages of court records in the Carlie Brucia kidnapping and murder case will remain sealed while a judge ponders a higher court's ruling that some of the documents should be made public.

Circuit Judge Andrew Owens said he had not studied the June 10 decision by the Second District Court of Appeal to release certain FBI reports and witness statements and had not received the court order. Owens had sealed the records because they could embarrass witnesses with intimate and personal information that may or may not be true.

Joseph P. Smith, a 39-year-old auto mechanic, was arrested in February and charged with Brucia's kidnapping and murder after a car wash security camera caught the girl's abduction on tape.

Smith's public defender, Adam Tebrugge, argued the media scrutiny made a fair trial difficult and asked that the records be sealed.

The St. Petersburg Times challenged Owens' ruling and a three-judge appellate panel in Lakeland overturned it, saying no one showed the restrictions were necessary.

Even if they were, the court ruled the claim must be made by that person, not a judge.

Tebrugge said Wednesday he was confused by the decision.

"Judge Owens worked very hard to ensure people's privacy," Tebrugge said. "The (District Court of Appeals) acknowledged that. They sympathized with us. Then they said, we reverse you."

The majority opinion, written by Judge Charles Canady, includes another exemption not mentioned by Owens that could shield some of the records. The court could withhold information from the public if it smears a witness or victim, Canady wrote.

But Canady could not use that exemption in his ruling because it wasn't part of the original case.

Tebrugge said he might try to keep the records closed using that provision. He will meet with prosecutors, who have said they intend to follow the court's decision, and Owens to determine which documents would become public. A hearing is scheduled July 15.

Attorneys in the death-penalty case also fought Wednesday over how quickly they should turn over information to each other before the November trial. Tebrugge wanted the state's DNA evidence. Prosecutor Debra Riva asked for Tebrugge's penalty phase witness list. Owens did not rule on either motion.

[Last modified June 23, 2005, 00:44:09]


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