The Abduction of Carlie Brucia
The final series of events in Joe Smith's long criminal history began when he was sentenced to six months of house arrest in March 2000 for a narcotics violation involving Oxycontin, an addictive prescription opiate used to treat chronic pain.
He attended rehab at Phoenix House that May as part of his sentence, but a month later his wife tipped his probation officer that Smith was again strung out on Oxycontin. She had 20 bottles of the pills as proof.
A judge opted to extend Smith's probation rather than lock him up, and a probation officer gave him glowing reports over the ensuing six months.
Smith opened then expanded his own car repair shop and was in "connubial bliss," as the officer put it, over the birth of a daughter.
"Definite improvement," the officer wrote about Smith in February 2001. "Coming up in the world."
But he was arrested and jailed that September after trying to pass a fraudulent prescription for Dilaudid, another addictive opiate.
Smith sat in jail for nearly 13 months, from Dec. 13, 2001, until Jan. 1, 2003. But just nine days after Smith was freed, police found him so high on cocaine that he had passed out in his car on a city street.
Rather than send Smith back to jail, Sarasota Circuit Judge Harry Rapkin extended his probation by three years. That August, Smith grabbed a knife and threatened to kill himself during an argument with his wife, and he was committed to a mental health facility.
Both his wife and his mother told authorities that Smith needed long-term psychiatric commitment. But he was out in less than a month.
Jobless and homeless, he flopped with the Pincuses and did odd jobs around the neighborhood to fund his boundless drug habit.
Smith frittered away one chance after another handed to him by the justice system. In the end, those second chances left him free to cross paths with poor Carlie Brucia on that Super Bowl Sunday in 2004.
Florida criminal justice authorities have salved their guilt over Smith's charitable treatment by insisting that he exhibited no signs of being a violent sexual predator.
In fact, he had.
On July 1, 1997, Smith approached a 32-year-old woman outside a Sarasota convenience store to ask for help with a car that wouldn't start. She agreed, but someone in the store called police because he noticed a knife concealed in Smith's shorts.
Cops raced to the scene and interceded, finding both the knife and a can of pepper spray on Smith. His car was perfectly functional. He was leading her to a vehicle he did not own that was parked in a dark, remote spot.
A police lieutenant reported that Smith "intended to do great harm" by using "a ploy to get a young woman alone in her vehicle."
Once again, Smith got off easya year of probation.
Just four months later, he was accused of wielding a knife against a Bradenton woman, but he was acquitted by a jury in that case.