On February 1, 2004, the world watches as a sex offender abducts 11-year-old Carlie Brucia in Sarasota, Florida, and then anxiously waits for news that she has been found. Every parent's nightmare becomes a reality as they watch the story unfold on TV.
Carlie Brucia is Kidnapped and Murdered
On Sunday, February 1, 2004 in Sarasota, 11-year-old Carlie Brucia was abducted while on her way home from a sleepover at a friend's house. The abduction was captured by a surveillance camera at a car wash, and the nation watched in horror as a man approaches the little girl, talks to her and leads her away. The video leads to tips from the community, which lead to Joseph P. Smith, a 37-year-old convicted felon and father of three.
He is indicted on charges of first degree murder, kidnapping and capital sexual battery on February 20, 2004. The nation is outraged because of perceived flaws in the Florida criminal justice system. Smith had been arrested at least 13 times in Florida since 1993, and he had a prior kidnapping and false imprisonment charge. And just a month prior to Carlie's abduction, a state probation officer asked a circuit judge to violate Smith for a technical probation violation, and he did not.
U.S. Representative Katherine Harris of Sarasota attempted to pass a law expanding the grounds for mandatory revocation of parole at the federal level. And the Florida Legislature continues to consider bills aimed at tightening the rules for detaining probation violators.
Smith’s jury finds him guilty and recommend 10-2 for the death penalty. On March 15, 2006 Circuit Judge Andrew Owens sentences Smith to death, citing as aggravating circumstances Smith’s previous felony convictions, the victim’s age (11) and the fact that the capital felony was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel.
On February 23, 2005, one year later, another sex offender abducts and kills another child in Florida. The Florida Legislature responds by enhancing penalties for sexual crimes against children.
Convicted Sex Offender is Charged with Murdering Jessica Lunsford
Nine-year-old Jessica Lunsford is taken from her bedroom in Citrus County sometime during the night of February 23, 2005. She is believed to have been sexually assaulted and buried alive a few days later. She died of asphyxiation, according to the medical examiner's report.
John Evander Couey, who was charged March 21, 2005 with her murder, was also charged with burglary with battery, kidnapping and sexual battery on a child less than 12 years of age. He is a convicted sex offender with a long criminal history. He is also a neighbor of Jessica's. He was on county probation at the time of the murder.
Juveniles and Execution
By a vote of 5-4, the U.S. Supreme Court on March 1, 2005 held that the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments forbid the execution of offenders who were under the age of 18 when their crimes were committed. (Roper v. Simmons)
Florida Legislature Enhances Penalties for Sexual Crimes Against Children
Governor Bush signs into law the Jessica Lunsford Act on June 9, 2005. It enhances penalties for sexual crimes against children, including making sexual predators who murder their victims eligible for the death penalty. It also increases the penalty for lewd and lascivious molestation of a child to life in prison or a split sentence of a mandatory minimum 25-year prison term, followed by lifetime supervision with electronic monitoring. For more on this law, go to fcn.state.fl.us/b_eog/ owa/b_eog_www.html.more_info? top_key_str=3653&title_str= Lunsford+Act
Franklin Correctional Institution, which broke ground on February 6, 2004, opened its doors to inmates in June 2005 and completed construction in December 2005. State representative Will Kendrick, Franklin County Commission Chairman Cheryl Sanders, representatives from Clark Construction and DC staff attended the groundbreaking ceremony. The approximately $61 million facility is slated to house 1,335 inmates.