SALT LAKE CITY — Eight years after he’s accused of slicing through a kitchen window screen with a knife and whisking away a young girl in the middle of the night, the man charged in the abduction of Elizabeth Smart is headed to trial in federal court.
Jury selection in the trial of Brian David Mitchell is scheduled to begin Monday in Salt Lake City’s U.S. District Court.Good Morning America segment on the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping case, broadcasted March, 2008
After years of delays driven by questions about Mitchell’s mental health and a jump from state to federal court, the trial of the one-time itinerant street preacher should finally bring Smart’s saga to a close.
Mitchell, 57, was indicted in March 2008 on federal charges of kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor across state lines – for allegedly taking Smart to San Diego. If convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in a federal prison.
A 2003 state case – in which Mitchell was charged with aggravated kidnapping and aggravated sexual assault – stalled after Mitchell was diagnosed with a delusional disorder and deemed incompetent to stand trial. A state judge rejected a request to force Mitchell to be treated with medications, saying she didn’t believe the drugs would work.Part 2 of 2
The ruling left Mitchell incarcerated in the state hospital – where he had refused treatment – before federal prosecutors stepped in to take a run at the case.
Mitchell was judged competent to stand trial in federal court earlier this year after an expert witness for the government said he believed Mitchell was “malingering,” essentially faking a mental illness to avoid prosecution.
With prosecutors expected to call as many as 22 witnesses, the trial could take up to six weeks.
Mitchell’s federal public defenders maintain that he is ill and unable to participate in his own defense. In court papers, defense attorneys have said they’ll mount an insanity defense, claiming Mitchell was so impaired at the time of the alleged crime that he can’t be held legally responsible.
As evidence the defense is expected to rely on testimony from mental health experts who have evaluated Mitchell and will likely point to a 27-page manifesto drafted by Mitchell – “The Book of Immanuel David Isaiah” – as evidence of his delusions.
The rambling tome drafted a few months before Smart’s June 5, 2002, kidnapping lays out Mitchell’s own brand of religion that mixes revelations from early Mormon theology with excerpts from the King James version of the Bible and the writings of several New Age philosophers. The manifesto, an addendum to which has been written since Mitchell was arrested in March 2003, proclaims Mitchell a prophet and predicts his wife, Wanda Eileen Barzee, will take “seven times, seven sisters,” an apparent endorsement of polygamy.
Smart said she believed Mitchell’s religious devotions were a ruse. Religious revelations came conveniently when he wanted something or when he was trying to calm Barzee, Smart said.
Smart was 14 when she was abducted in the middle of the night.
She was rescued nine months later after motorists spotted her walking the streets of a Salt Lake City suburb with Mitchell and Barzee.
Now, 22, Smart is expected to return to Utah from France where she is serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to testify against Mitchell.
Jury selection in Mitchell kidnapping trial to begin today
It wasn’t until last year, during a federal court hearing that resulted in Mitchell being found competent for trial, that Smart publicly revealed details of her captivity.
She said Mitchell raped her three to four times a day, gave her drugs and alcohol to lower her resistance, and threatened to kill her family if she tried to escape.
Monday, as jury selection begins for Mitchell’s trial in U.S. District Court, Smart is again preparing to testify against the man who told her he was “God’s voice on Earth.”
Smart, who turns 23 on Wednesday, is interrupting an LDS Church mission to France to testify.