Smart kidnapper guilty
SALT LAKE CITY – A federal jury found a rambling street preacher guilty yesterday of the 2002 kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart in a case that has tugged at hearts around the nation ever since the Utah teenager was snatched from her bedroom and resurfaced nine months later.
Brian David Mitchell could face up to life in prison when he is sentenced on May 25.
Elizabeth Smart gave a slight smile as she heard the guilty verdicts on charges of kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor across state lines for the purposes of illegal sex.
Smart then turned to her mother and both smiled. Elizabeth Smart later hugged prosecutors in the Salt Lake City courtroom.
“It’s real!” father Ed Smart said on his way out of the courtroom, giving a thumbs up and echoing the words he told a crowd gathered around a church on March 13, 2003, confirming his daughter had been found.
The shackled Mitchell sat singing about Jesus Christ on the cross throughout the reading of the verdicts. He held his hands in front of his chest as though he was praying.
Mitchell’s former stepdaughter Rebecca Woodridge told reporters outside the courthouse that she was shocked that jurors didn’t see that Mitchell was mentally ill.
“He honestly believes God tells him to do these things,” Woodridge said. “He’s upset and frustrated that the Lord is making him go through this.”
Smart and her family had hoped for the guilty verdict and a long sentence to end the ordeal that began when she was taken from her Salt Lake City home at knifepoint and held captive for nine months when she was 14.
Smart, now 23, attended the entire trial and provided gripping testimony, describing how she woke up one night to the feel of a cold, jagged knife and being thrust into “nine months of hell” in a mountainside camp.
She said she was forced into a polygamous marriage and endured nearly daily rapes before she was found.
To the chagrin of the family, the case was delayed for years after Mitchell was declared mentally incompetent to stand trial in state court and a judge refused to order involuntary medications. Federal prosecutors later stepped in and took the case to trial.
Carlie Christensen, the United States attorney for Utah, praised Elizabeth Smart for her extraordinary courage and determination in seeing justice was done.
“She told it with candour, with clarity and with truthfulness that I think moved all of us,“ Christensen said.
The prosecutor said one of the biggest challenges of the case was the six years between the time of the kidnapping and the time the case came into the federal justice system. Another hurdle was the state court decision that Mitchell was mentally incompetent to stand trial and its possible influence on the federal case.
The trial turned on the question of Mitchell’s mental health — something experts have debated since his arrest 2003, when state court evaluators began to study his religious writings and behaviour, including courtroom antics such as singing hymns and shouting at judges to repent.
His lawyers did not dispute that he kidnapped Smart but wanted him to be found not guilty by reason of insanity.
Such a verdict would have sent him to a prison mental hospital.