"He will die eventually. Whether he dies in prison or whether he dies on the table with IVs in his arm, he’s going to die, At that point, he’ll be faced with what he’s done in his life, just like we all are.”
- Ron Kruzel (the Jury foreman in the case against Joseph Smith)
It was the 1st of February 2004. A Sunday. The night before, the 31st of January, eleven year old Carlie Brucia spent the night at a friend's house. They had a sleep over. On the Sunday, Carlie told her friend she would walk home. Wearing a red shirt, blue jeans and carrying a pink backpack, she left her friend's house at around 6.15pm that evening. Even though Carlie said that she was fine to walk home, her friend's mother called Carlie's home to let them know that Carlie was on the way. Carlie lived with her mother Susan Schorpen and her step father in Sarasota, Florida, United States of America.
Carlie's stepfather, Steven Kansler, left his house and drove towards Carlie's friends house. He thought he would see Carlie on the way and give her a lift home but there was no sign of her. When he got home and Carlie wasn't there, they waited for a few minutes but there was still no sign of her so they called 911 at 7:30 pm. They were worried about her as Steven left as soon as he got the call and it was as if she had just vanished.
Police used a bloodhound to search for Carlie. They knew she left her friend's house to walk home so they thought she may be close by so knew the exact area to focus on. The bloodhound lost Carlie's scent at Evie’s Car Wash.
Police spoke with the owner of Evie's Car Wash who was willing to help immediately. He told police he had motion cameras and would check them to see if there was anything on them. At 6.27pm, on one of the cameras, Camera 3, he saw a man walk towards a girl and say something to her. That same man led the girl away towards the back side of the car wash.
Three other cameras , Cameras 2,4 and 8, revealed footage of a yellow station wagon outside the car wash between 6.15pm and 6.19pm.
Carlie's family told police that the girl in the footage was Carlie. She must have cut through the car wash as a short cut home. They had no idea who the man in the footage was. Police released the footage to the media and they received many tips. A number of people identified the man in the footage as thirty seven year old Joseph Smith. People who knew Joseph well, including his own brother, told police that it was Joseph.
Footage from the Car Wash
Police spoke with Joseph. He said that he was not the man in the footage and told police that he had an alibi. He was no where near the car wash at the time. Joseph was renting a room from Jeffrey and Naomi Pincus. He was a married man with three children but due to marital problems, he moved out of the house and rented a room close to the family home. He worked as a mechanic. Joseph told police that the day the footage was taken, he left the house at 6pm and met his brother John. He was with him until 6.30pm and returned to the house at 7.30pm. Police asked Joseph to roll up his sleeves. The man in the footage had tattoos. When Joseph rolled up his sleeves, Joseph also had tattoos. However, he had an alibi and police found nothing related to Carlie in his home or car so they did not have enough to arrest him at that time.
Police later discovered that the Pincuses owned a yellow station wagon, like the one seen in the footage from the car wash. They confirmed that on the 1st of February, Joseph borrowed that car. He was supposed to have the car for just fifteen minutes but Jeffrey told police that he didn't see Joseph for the entire night. He further confirmed that Joseph was wearing a mechanic's uniform when he left that day in the car.
Police searched the car. No prints matched Carlie’s but two head hairs consistent with Carlie’s were found inside the station wagon from the rear of the wagon and on the floor mat and seven fibers from the vehicle were consistent with Carlie’s shirt. Joseph was arrested. But police still did not know where Carlie was or what happened to her.
Police didn't have long to wait. Joseph's brother spoke with John in prison. According to John, he asked Joseph about Carlie. Joseph said he couldn’t remember much of what had happened as he had taken cocaine . John said Joseph said they "had oral sex, rough sex, and sex where he ejaculated inside her."
Joseph did not know if Carlie was dead but told John that she could be. When John asked where Carlie was, Joseph mentioned a Church on Proctor Road.
John directed police to Central Church of Christ on Proctor Road. Police entered the wooded area on the 6th of February and found Carlie's body.
It was clear that Carlie's body had been dragged to that location. Her left leg was under the left buttock so the medical examiner believed Carlie's body was dragged there before rigour mortis set in. She was still wearing her red shirt but just had her bra on which was open and one sock.
Carlie's Red Shirt being shown in Court
The official cause of death was strangulation.There was a ligature mark around her neck and linear marks on both wrists. The marks were consistent with her hands being bound.
There was no physical evidence of a sexual battery on Carlie's body but a semen stain was found on Carlie’s shirt. The DNA was a match to Joseph's DNA. Carlie had been abducted on her way home, raped and murdered and left in a Church parking lot just miles from her home.
Joseph had been in trouble before. He was arrested at least thirteen times in Florida and had previously been charged with kidnapping and false imprisonment.
Joseph in Court
Joseph was indicted on a charge of first-degree murder, separate charges of kidnapping and capital sexual battery were filed by the state attorney's office.
John testified at the Trial in relation to Joseph's confession that he had "rough sex" with Carlie and strangled her to death. The Jury also saw the video footage and heard about the DNA evidence. It took them less than six hours to find him guilty of the first-degree murder, sexual battery, and kidnapping of Carlie Brucia.
The jury voted 10 to 2 for the death sentence in Carlie's murder and Joseph was sentenced to death.
On July 18, 2017, County Court Judge Charles Roberts vacated Joseph's death sentence based on a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that a unanimous jury verdict is required to impose the death penalty. Florida's death penalty sentencing requirements were deemed unconstitutional.
Joseph is currently awaiting a resentencing hearing.
Shortly after Carlie's brutal murder, her mother died. She could not live with the pain of what her beautiful daughter was subjected to at the hands of a complete stranger. Joseph deserves no mercy and no law or any changes to the law should protect him.
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"The criminal justice system will take a hard look at what happened to Matthew Eappen. It is up to the rest of us to take an even harder look at who is minding our children."
- Eileen McNamara, the Boston Globe
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- Sandra Pupatello
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