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Man who raped and killed Fla. girl pleads for life sentence

SARASOTA, Fla. -- A weeping Joseph Smith apologized yesterday for the abduction, rape, and murder of 11-year-old Carlie Brucia two years ago, telling a judge he had taken large amounts of cocaine and heroin before kidnapping the girl in hopes of killing himself.

Smith told Circuit Judge Andrew Owens, who will sentence him to death or life in prison: ''I do not ask for mercy for myself. The only thing I can see to give me a life sentence is for my family. I do not want to see them hurt any further."

Carlie was abducted while walking home from a friend's house in February 2004, an act that was caught on a car wash surveillance tape and broadcast nationwide.

Friends and Smith's brother said they recognized the burly mechanic grabbing the girl's wrist on the tape as Smith. A jury found the 39-year-old guilty last November and recommended by a 10-to-2 vote that he be executed.

Owens will sentence Smith on March 15. Under Florida law, he must give the jury's death sentence recommendation ''great weight."

Smith told Owens during the second day of the sentencing hearing yesterday that he had been a heroin addict since he was 19 and had unsuccessfully tried to quit several times. He said his wife had kicked him out of their home in January 2004, he had lost his job and, in the hours before abducting Carlie, he tried to overdose. ''I just wanted to die that day," he said. ''I take responsibility of my crimes. I don't understand how this could have happened."

But prosecutor Debra Johnes Riva said Smith was lucid enough after the crime to stash Carlie's body and get rid of her clothes and backpack. Days later, he told his brother where he had put the body.

''He has an absolute, complete memory of the crime," Riva said.

Riva dismissed arguments by defense attorney Adam Tebrugge about Smith's drug use and the idea that he could lead a productive life in prison and be a positive influence on his three daughters.

None of that, she said, ''outweighs the horrible crimes that were committed against Carlie Brucia."

Tebrugge had implored Owens to spare Smith, saying he had sought help for his drug addiction but never received it. He also suggested that the community would better heal if Smith was given life in prison and forgotten, rather than sentenced to death, which could lead to years of appeals.

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