- The Washington Times - Monday, February 9, 2004

SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) — The man suspected of killing 11-year-old Carlie Brucia had been under the supervision of Florida’s criminal justice system for most of the past decade. But Joseph P. Smith never spent long behind bars.

Now, the girl’s grieving family is demanding to know why Smith — a drug addict who admitted to attacking one woman and was accused of trying to kidnap another — was a free man.

Smith’s longest prison term was less than 14 months. He was acquitted of the most serious crime on his rap sheet, an attempted kidnapping, after telling jurors that he meant no harm.

Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist said Saturday that his office was reviewing whether the state’s probation laws need to be toughened to deal with offenders such as Smith.

“You can’t help but think some of the statutes are too permissive,” Mr. Crist said. “I think it’s important we review putting more teeth into our statutes.”

That review became more intense when Joe Brucia, Carlie’s father, called on Gov. Jeb Bush on Friday for an investigation of why Smith had served relatively little time in prison despite more than a dozen arrests.

Carlie was abducted Feb. 1 while walking home from a friend’s house, and videotape from a security camera at a carwash showed her being led away by a man police say was Smith. The girl’s body was found Friday in a church parking lot.

Sarasota Circuit Judge Harry Rapkin, who handled Smith’s last case, said Friday that he was not at fault for not putting Smith in jail when the unemployed mechanic failed to pay court costs and fines in December.

There’s no “debtor’s prison” in Florida and Smith wouldn’t have been held simply for not paying a bill, the judge said.

Judge Rapkin has been receiving threatening phone calls for his handling of the case, even though he never had seen Smith in his courtroom.

Smith’s first brush with Florida’s criminal justice system was a 1993 arrest for attacking a woman on a street in Sarasota, breaking her nose with a motorcycle helmet. He pleaded no contest to aggravated battery and served 60 days in jail and two years on probation.

Smith since has been on probation almost continually.

In 1997, he was put on a year of 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 put on probation for 18 months. A month later, he was arrested for prescription-drug 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.

According to court records, his probation officer said it was impossible to tell whether a positive drug test result was from an illegal drug or a legitimate prescription of OxyContin for severe, chronic back pain.

“Needs long term residential treatment … prison if necessary,” the probation officer wrote in a report that is part of Smith’s court file.

Judge Rapkin said he has not seen that report or others on Smith’s crimes.

In 2001, Smith was arrested for prescription fraud. He served about 13 months of a 16-month sentence.

Eight days later, deputies found Smith passed out in his car with drugs on the seat beside him. He could have gone to prison for five years, but a scoring system that judges use to determine sentencing didn’t add up to enough to put Smith in prison, records showed. Instead, he was put on probation for three years.

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