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Jury selection set to start in notorious murder case

A mechanic faces charges in the slaying of an 11-year-old Sarasota girl, whose abduction was caught on tape.

Associated Press
Published October 24, 2005

SARASOTA - Like everyone else who saw it replayed over and over on TV around the world, residents of this city shuddered when they saw the video images of a man taking 11-year-old Carlie Brucia by the arm in the back of a car wash nearly 21 months ago.

Together they hoped and prayed for a happy ending as authorities launched a massive search for the girl, and together they mourned when she was found dead on the grounds of a nearby church four nights later.

Now Sarasota's deepest wound will be torn open again when jury selection begins Tuesday in the trial of Joseph P. Smith, the man accused of kidnapping, raping and strangling the sixth-grader on Super Bowl Sunday last year. The start was delayed a day because of Hurricane Wilma.

"Carlie Brucia became, for all of Sarasota, one of our children," said Sarasota Mayor Mary Anne Servian. "We felt like we knew her, and all of us were so hoping for a different outcome (after her disappearance). And when there wasn't, we suffered a collective broken heart. I don't think I've ever seen a community so wounded."

A security camera at Evie's Car Wash captured images of the tall, blond sixth-grader in jeans and a red shirt being grabbed by the arm and led away by a man in dark mechanic's uniform as she walked home from a friend's house at dusk on Feb. 1, 2004.

The video, released to TV news stations and aired around the world, brought an onslaught of media to Sarasota to chronicle the massive search for Carlie and, ultimately, the discovery of her body.

The video also led to the arrest of Smith, an auto mechanic with a drug problem and a long rap sheet.

A number of people called authorities to say they recognized Smith as the man on the car wash video. Arrested on unrelated drug charges two days after Carlie disappeared, Smith confessed to the slaying to his mother and brother during a jailhouse visit and then helped them lead authorities to Carlie's body, according to testimony in pretrial hearings.

Smith, 39, is charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping and capital sexual battery. Prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty.

Assistant Public Defender Adam Tebrugge has tried to get Smith's statement thrown out, arguing that it was illegally obtained through his brother after Smith had already invoked his right to remain silent and have an attorney present during questioning. Tebrugge has also challenged the car wash video, contending it should not be used at trial because prosecutors can't prove the images and the date stamps are authentic.

Judge Andrew Owens has yet to rule on those motions by Tebrugge.

Servian said residents are preparing themselves for a repeat of the media onslaught and to see the video snippet of Carlie's apparent abduction again run repeatedly on TV during the trial.

"The thing that brought this so close to home for all of us was the infamous video," the mayor said. "We could all see her and see what was unfolding, and none of us could do anything about it. I think that's what was so hard for all of us."

Jury selection could take up to two weeks, with 500 prospective panelists called to the county judicial center . Opening statements were set to begin Nov. 7, and the trial was expected to last several weeks. Court TV plans to carry it live.

[Last modified October 24, 2005, 00:58:06]

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