SARASOTA, Fla. - Police found the body of 11-year-old Carlie Jane Brucia yesterday in a church parking lot, days after a surveillance tape that captured her abduction shocked a worldwide audience.
The out-of-work mechanic suspected of grabbing Carlie on Sunday was charged with kidnapping and murder hours after the body was found behind the Central Church of Christ - just 2 1/2 miles from the car wash where she was kidnapped. In the end, police say, it was suspect Joseph Peter Smith's own words that broke the case when he told an unnamed witness in the Sarasota County jail that he killed Carlie and dumped her body.
Instead of the happy homecoming this gulf coast town had hoped for, friends and family gathered last night for a candlelight service.
"She's in a better place," said Carlie's father, Joe Brucia, of New York City. "She got there in a horrific manner but now she's watching me all the time."
Police released scant information yesterday and refused to answer questions about the investigation. The one thing Sarasota County Sheriff Bill Balkwell would say is that the 37-year-old Smith did not willingly help investigators find Carlie's body.
"I assure you and tell you, there have been no deals made in this case," Balkwell said, choking back tears. "None whatsoever."
Prosecutors said they expect to seek the death penalty in the case.
Few other details about what happened to Carlie since she was last seen Sunday walking home from a slumber party were made public, other than to say the child "died as a result of homicidal violence."
But the arrest affidavit revealed that Smith was a suspect early on, as associates recognized him as the man grabbing Carlie in an image captured in a few seconds of a car wash security video.
In an arrest affidavit released yesterday, investigators revealed a detail kept out of the news: The surveillance camera at Evie's Car Wash also captured the image of a yellow Buick station wagon in the parking lot three minutes before Carlie was abducted. It was the same make, model and color of car driven by Smith.
Smith was arrested Tuesday for probation violations and was named a suspect. On Thursday, according to the affidavit, Smith told an unnamed witness that he abducted and murdered Carlie Brucia.
That information led police to the body about 1 a.m. yesterday near a stand of trees and a chain-link fence behind the church.
Smith and the man on the video have the same build and dark hair, wore a mechanic's uniform and had tattoos on the forearms. Callers also told police that they recognized his gait as he walked.
Smith told detectives that he wasn't anywhere near the area, but investigators found witnesses who placed him there.
Investigators believe Smith spotted Carlie walking home and then kidnapped her and later murdered her. Police did not say how she was killed or if she was sexually assaulted.
Smith's court-appointed defense attorneys did not return numerous phone calls yesterday. Court officials said that Smith was moved from the Sarasota County Jail to the Manatee County Jail for security reasons. He also waived his first court appearance, which had been set for today.
Smith has been arrested at least 13 times in Florida, but was an enigma to his neighbors and co-workers. Some knew he had trouble with the law, some did not. But few suspected him as capable of harming a child.
Ed Dinyes, owner of Saurus Auto, where Smith worked, said Friday that he was stunned by what had happened.
"Joe Smith? I'd have never thought this of him, never in my life. He's got three girls of his own," Dinyes said.
"He loved his wife. He loved his kids," Dinyes said. "I can't bear to think what his family is thinking."
Roy Thompson, Smith's neighbor, said most people in the neighborhood did not know about Smith's criminal history. They did know, however, that he had recently separated from his wife.
Even though they no longer lived together, Thompson said, Smith still stopped by the house to visit his daughters, whom he adored.
Smith had been arrested for domestic violence, carrying a concealed weapon and trying to kidnap a young woman in neighboring Manatee County in 1997. He was acquitted of the kidnapping charge after days of testimony in 1998, despite testimony from a 20-year-old woman who said Smith knocked her to the ground and threatened to cut her before she fled for help. Smith told the jury that it was a misunderstanding and that he was trying to keep the woman from running into traffic.
Smith also has a drug history dating to at least 1999, according to state records that detail numerous arrests and sentences of probation and prison time.
The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.