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Florida child killer, 55, dies in prison while awaiting resentencing

Convicted killer and rapist Joseph Smith, 55, died in a Florida prison on Monday. His cause of death is unknown

A convicted child killer has died at a Florida prison 17 years after he kidnapped, raped, and murdered an 11-year-old-girl - and three years after his death sentence was vacated due to a legal loophole. 

Joseph Smith, 55, died while in custody at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford, Florida on Monday while still waiting to be resentenced. 

His cause of death is unknown. 

Smith, then 39, was convicted in 2006 of the kidnapping, rape, and murder of 11-year-old Carlie Brucia. 

The Florida State Attorney's Office released a statement saying, 'While nothing can bring back Carlie. we are grateful that her family, her friends, and the entire Sarasota community will finally have closure and will not have to endure any further court proceedings to bring Smith to justice.'

Carlie's father Joe told FOX 13, 'I feel wonderful,' when he heard the news of Smith's passing. 'It's long overdue. The inept and corrupt criminal justice system could not get it done, so the natural order of things finally took care of it.' 

Smith was sentenced to the death penalty by lethal injection, by a jury's vote of 10-2 in March 2006.

But in 2018 that sentence was vacated, due to a separate state supreme court decision in 2016 that ruled that capital sentences must be unanimous.

This came despite that fact that Smith was caught on a surveillance camera grabbing the pre-teen by the arm, and dragging her away from a Sarasota car wash to her ultimate death. 

Brucia was 11 years old when Smith tracked her to an isolated parking lot and abducted her

Smith (left) was caught on surveillance camera on February 1, 2004, grabbing Carlie Brucia (right), age 11, by the arm, and dragging her away to her ultimate death

Tape taken from the scene of Brucia's abduction on February 1, 2004, showed Smith approaching the young girl in an isolated area in a parking lot.

The pre-teen was walking home from a friend's house , passing behind Evie's Car Wash at 4715 Bee Ridge Road in Sarasota.

She was looking down as she walked, until Smith approached and grabbed her arm.

The two were seen standing there for a moment, until Smith led her away by the wrist.

Brucia's body was found four nights later, on the grounds of Central Church of Christ at 6221 Proctor Road, after having been raped and murdered. 

Smith was arrested and confessed to the crime before her body was found. 

It was revealed during his trial that Smith was an unemployed auto mechanic and convicted drug abuser with a long record, who had recently violated probation, but was released prior to his attack on Brucia.

Since being placed on death row in March of 2006, Smith has tried repeatedly to appeal the sentence.

Tape taken from the scene of Brucia's abduction on February 1, 2004, showed Smith approaching the young girl in an isolated area in a parking lot

Joseph Brucia, Carlie Brucia's father, said he felt 'wonderful' about Smith's death

He was denied repeatedly, until the Supreme Court of Florida held in 2016's Hurst v. Florida that 'a unanimous jury recommendation for death is required before the trial court may impose a sentence of death.'

That decision was held to apply retroactively to Smith's case, which was finalized in 2011, because it was held to apply to all cases decided after the 2002 US Supreme Court ruling in Ring vs. Arizona, which held that a jury must find aggravating factors in order for the death penalty to be imposed.

Brucia's mother, Susan Schorpen, died at the age of 47. She was said to have led a troubled life after her daughter's death, according to the Herald-Tribune, and reportedly died of an overdose.  

Her death happened about one month after it became apparent Smith might get the rehearing he had long been hoping for. 

Susan Schorpen (center), Carlie Brucia's mother, and supporters arrive to testify in the Joseph Smith sentencing phase on November 28, 2005 in Sarasota, Florida

Schorpen, died at the age of 47 from an overdose after struggling to get accept her daughter's gruesome death

At the time of Smith's original sentencing in 2006, Schorpen called Smith an 'animal' and expressed how happy she was that he was given the death penalty.

'He's still breathing, and my daughter isn't. ... He couldn't be dead fast enough for me,' she said, frustrated that he would first have the usual number of requisite appeals before his sentence would be carried out. 

In July 2018, a lower court first ordered Smith's death sentence be vacated and another sentencing hearing be held.

Brucia's father, Joe Brucia said his family had been robbed of justice at that time. 

Jennfer Luttman, an FBI forensic examiner, displays to the jury the tattered and stained red shirt 11-year-old Carlie Brucia was wearing when her body was found

Assistant State Attorney Debra Johnes Riva (R) and Sarasota County Sheriff's Det. Toby Davis hold up the mechanic's uniform of Joseph Smith as evidence

'Obviously it's a very poor decision. He committed a crime, a horrific crime and the state of Florida convicted him and sentenced him to death,' he told the Herald-Tribune. 

'I'm not surprised, just disappointed. I don't think it's a system that strives for justice. It's a system made for attorneys.' 

'It's an outrage. It benefits nobody but attorneys,' Brucia added. 'They will probably end up spending millions on this case so far... what he needs is to be executed.' 

Smith had asked, in July, that Twelfth Circuit Court Judge Charles Roberts immediately substitute a life sentence, but that request was denied, and the vacating of his sentence was appealed to the Florida Supreme Court.

Because only 10 of the 12 jurors in Smith's sentencing voted for the death penalty rather than life in prison, the highest court upheld the circuit court's order and his death sentence has now officially been vacated.

A new jury was set to pass sentence over Smith, but a date had not been set when he died. 

The back of the Car Wash Detail Center in Sarasota, Florida where Carlie was abducted

Joseph Smith was sentenced to death by lethal injection in March 2006 but was awaiting resentencing at the time of this death

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