Man Accused of Killing Carlie Reveals Violent Past After Series of Attack
February 9, 2004 at 5:53 PM CST - Updated June 26 at 4:00 AM
While Carlie Brucia's father questions why Joseph P. Smith, the man accused of killing his daughter, was roaming the streets of Sarasota, Fla., as a free man, a woman who claims she narrowly escaped Smith's clutch seven years ago says the system simply failed.
Teri Stinson says she still remembers all the details of the frightening night she encountered Smith, who she said lunged from some bushes near the highway and grabbed her as she walked to a friend's house in Bradenton, Fla.
"I lost my footing on my side of the rail and fell on my back. He landed on top of me and said that he would cut me," Stinson said on ABCNEWS' Good Morning America.
Stinson said she believed the man, who she had never seen before, intended to rape and kill her. She said she was able to wriggle away from Smith as he tried to pull her to her feet. When she stopped a van of vacationing golfers, Smith ran off and the men helped Stinson call police.
While Smith was charged with the kidnapping and false imprisonment of Stinson, a jury acquitted him. In his defense presented to the court, he said he meant the woman no harm.
Stinson said she was surprised by the jury's acquittal and believes the system failed her and Carlie.
"This is a person that should have been locked away for a very long time, for just even attempting to kidnap somebody," she said.
Four years before Stinson reported her highway attack, there was another woman who claimed she was violently attacked by Smith in 1993. The woman, Michelle Warner, said Smith broke her nose with a motorcycle helmet when she encountered him as she walked home from a Sarasota beach club. Smith pleaded no contest to the charge and was sentenced to 60 days in the county jail and two years of probation.
Hurt and Angry
From those who knew 11-year-old Carlie, whose body was found behind a church Friday morning, there have been claims that the justice system failed the young girl by letting Smith roam free.
"As far as this individual being out on the street, I really find the decisions made by some of these judges very questionable and I would ask the governor to look into this," said Joe Brucia, Carlie's father.
In a news conference today, Joe Brucia said he was satisfied with the work investigators did when searching for his daughter.
At the time of Carlie's abduction, Smith was on probation after serving time for prescription fraud. Late last year, a judge was asked to declare Smith in violation of the terms of his probation because he had not paid all his fines and court costs. But Smith remained free.
Now under attack, Sarasota Circuit Judge Harry Rapkin, the last judge to have handled Smith's case, held a news conference this weekend, defending his decision.
There's no "debtor's prison" in Florida and Smith wouldn't have been held simply for not paying a bill, the judge said.
Rapkin says he has been receiving threatening telephone calls for his handling of Smith's case, even though Smith was never in his courtroom.
Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist says his office is already looking into whether the state's probation laws need more teeth to deal with repeat offenders like Smith.
"It's very frustrating for all of us," Crist said. "Obviously you learn from cases like this whenever they occur. It is one of the most tragic situations I think any of us have witnessed," he said.
Smith, a 37-year-old father, has been on probation almost continually since 1993.
In 1997, he was put on one year's probation on a concealed weapons charge for carrying a five-inch knife hidden in the waistband of his shorts.
In 1999, he was arrested for heroin possession and was put on probation for 18 months. A month later, he was arrested for prescription fraud, but the charge was dropped.
The next year, he was arrested again for prescription fraud and sentenced to six months of house arrest followed by a year on probation. Meanwhile, Smith's drug use became a legally complicated matter, according to a probation officer's account in court records. The officer said it was impossible to tell if one of Smith's positive drug test results was from an illegal drug or a legitimate prescription of Oxycontin for chronic back pain.
Carlie was abducted on Sunday, Feb. 1, in Sarasota as she took a shortcut home that led her past a car wash. The business' motion-activated camera caught a shot of Carlie walking and then a man as he walked up to her and said a few words before grabbing her arm.
Authorities said that more than 400 phone tips from the public led authorities to link Smith to the car wash's surveillance video.
Carlie's father, Joe Brucia, said today that a fund being established in response to the tragedy shouldn't be named the Brucia Family Fund. He'd like the fund to be renamed the "Carlie Brucia Rescue Fund," since the money should go to all families who needs help with a missing child.
"I think that would be more appropriate and it would make Carlie happy," he said.
Capt. Jeff Bell of the Sarasota, Fla., sheriff's department says there is no way Smith will be set free again.
"We now stand ready to complete our obligation, and assure you that he will pay the ultimate price for what he did to her [Carlie]," Bell said.