Child's killer asks judge to spare his life
Murderer pleads for mercy -- for his own kids' sake
(CNN) -- The man convicted of raping and strangling an 11-year-old Florida girl tearfully apologized Tuesday for the pain his crime caused and asked a judge to spare his life for the sake of his own children.
"I do not ask for mercy for myself," Joseph P. Smith told Sarasota, Florida, Judge Andrew Owens. "As you have heard, there were many times when I didn't care whether I lived or died."
But, he added, "The only reason that I can see to ask you to give me a life sentence is for the sake of my family."
"I do not want to see my children hurt any further," Smith said. "I'm hopeful that I can still be a positive influence to them. If I'm sent to death row, I won't be able to talk to them."
Smith said he hoped his life would serve as an example of the destructive power of drugs.
"I never expected or believed I could commit this horrible crime. I can only hope that I can be an example to others of what drugs, depression and no regards for yourself can lead to," Smith said.
He said he started using heroin at age 19 and abused drugs until the day he abducted and killed Carlie Brucia in February 2004.
'I was so high'
"Judge Owens, I want you to know I take full responsibility for my crime. I don't know how it happened," Smith said.
Smith said his life took a downward turn when his wife threw him out of the house a month before the crime. "My world was really coming apart fast," he said.
On February 1, the day Carlie was abducted, he said he learned his wife did not want him back.
"I just wanted to die." He said he injected a large amount of heroin and cocaine, hoping to overdose. "Judge Owens, I was so high," Smith said. "I've never experienced a high like that."
He said his memory of the crime is hazy. "I don't understand how it all happened. ... I remember thinking it was wrong, but I couldn't stop."
"I want to tell you, and Carlie's family, and my family, and this community, how very sorry I am for these terrible crimes. Every day I think about what I did, and I beg God for forgiveness,"
"I truly hope that all the families involved can get their life back on track," he concluded. "I am truly sorry for my actions."
Jury recommended death
The case drew national attention after a car wash security camera showed Carlie, who had been walking home from a friend's house, being led away by a man in a blue shirt.
A jury convicted Smith, 39, in November and recommended 10-2 that he be put to death. The ultimate decision rests with Owens.
The hearing, which began Monday, gives the judge the opportunity to hear mitigating evidence. Owens had said he will announce the sentence on March 15.
"Although mitigation has been shown," prosecutor Debra Riva said, "none of that mitigation outweighs the horrible crimes that he committed against Carlie Brucia. We're talking about the death of an 11-year-old child."
She asked the judge to remember what Carlie went through before her death.
"Consider her inability to fight back and what she knew was looming over her," Riva said.
On Monday, Carlie's relatives and friends testified that their lives have been forever shattered by the crime.
One by one, the girl's aunts, a teacher and her best friend's mother described the impact her rape and murder had on their lives.
Two of her aunts mourned the bright and bubbly child they will never see grow up, the smiles and hugs that don't come anymore, the shopping trips and beach outings that won't be taken.
"Carlie's future and life were stolen from her -- and us, her family," said her aunt Laurie Jane Brucia.
"Our hearts will never heal," she added. "Our family has been left with an overwhelming sadness, a void that pictures will never fill. Carlie, our hope for the future, is gone forever."
Another aunt said the crime "completely tore apart three very close families" and "destroyed marriages, friendships and family relationships."
At Carlie's middle school, classmates had trouble concentrating, met often with counselors and fell behind in school. A garden was dedicated to her memory, said Noel Gilliland, a special education teacher who said Carlie assisted in her class and "was always ready to help the underdog."
She recalled Carlie as "the girl we all wished we had a classroom full of."
The slain girl's best friend became withdrawn, gained 60 pounds and began failing in school, her mother said. She described Carlie as "a little blond-haired, blue-eyed angel."
"Mandy does not make friends; the phone doesn't ring for her anymore," said Sherry Langworth. "Mandy is broken, and I don't know how to fix her."
A family destroyed
Carlie's mother, Susan Schorpen, is being held on a drug charge and could not appear in court. But she told Sarasota County Circuit Judge Andrew Owens in a written statement, " I want desperately for a normal life again, but I feel so broken."
Her family, she wrote, has been destroyed. Her mother died of cancer, her father is "lost," wandering in Europe, her brother died suddenly earlier this month, her son was robbed of his childhood and she is battling a drug problem.
"I have lost so much through this tragedy, and so has my family," she said.
Drugs also played into the arguments of Smith's attorneys, who said his life should be spared because he repeatedly sought help for depression and drug addiction without success.
The defense submitted reams of medical and financial documents in an effort to persuade the judge to overrule the jury's recommendation -- something that rarely happens in Florida.