Mitchell, wife charged with kidnapping, sexual assault in Smart abduction

Associated Press, Mar. 18, 2003

SALT LAKE CITY – Prosecutors charged a self-proclaimed prophet and his wife Tuesday with aggravated kidnapping and sexual assault in the abduction of Elizabeth Smart, disclosing for the first time details of the girl’s nine-month ordeal.

Brian Mitchell and Wanda Barzee also were charged with burglary and attempted aggravated kidnapping – a charge stemming from what prosecutors said was an attempt to later abduct Elizabeth’s 18-year-old cousin.

“We are not dealing with just a religious zealot, we are dealing with a predatory sex offender,” District Attorney David Yocom said in announcing the charges.

Mitchell, 49, and Barzee, 57, could receive life in prison if convicted. They were scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday, and bail was set at $10 million each.

Before Tuesday’s charges, no details had been released about any abuse Elizabeth, now 15, might have suffered during her disappearance.

Prosecutors contend Mitchell, a drifter whose writings promote polygamy, entered the Smart home June 5 after using a knife to cut a window screen. Elizabeth, dressed in pajamas, was forced at knifepoint to walk four miles up a mountain trail behind the Smart family home to a concealed campsite, according to court papers.

Mitchell threatened to harm or kill the girl’s family members if she resisted, the papers said.

“She was under the threat of death,” Yocom said.

Prosecutors said that when the trio reached the campsite, Barzee tried to remove Elizabeth’s pajamas. When the girl resisted, Barzee threatened to have Mitchell forcibly do it, they said.

Mitchell then “raped or attempted to rape her, or commit forcible sexual abuse against her,” with Barzee’s help, Yocom said. At some point, the girl was restrained with a cable around her foot that was tethered to a tree, he said.

The couple held Elizabeth against her will at the campsite until Oct. 8 with little or no shelter, water or food, prosecutors said. They then took her to California, where they stayed until March 5, according to the court papers.

Elizabeth was found with the couple on March 12 in Sandy, a Salt Lake City suburb.

Yocom said it was unclear why Mitchell would have picked Elizabeth. He could have seen her during his five hours of handyman work on the Smart home in November 2001 or when Lois Smart, possibly accompanied by her daughter Elizabeth, hired Mitchell as he panhandled outside a downtown mall, the prosecutor said.

A Smart family spokesman called the charges “disheartening.”

“But the important thing is they have Elizabeth back,” Chris Thomas said. “They did everything they did to find her, but they felt her destiny wasn’t in their control. Now they have some control.

Attorney Larry Long, who initially claimed to represent Mitchell, said Mitchell told him that he considers Elizabeth his wife and that her disappearance was a “call from God” – not a kidnapping.

Yocom said Mitchell had told him that Long wasn’t his attorney “and had no authority to speak for him. With that in mind, (Long’s) comments are, without using a vulgar term, bull-something.”

Prosecutors said Mitchell and Barzee also attempted to kidnap Elizabeth’s cousin on July 24. A window was cut with a sharp instrument, but the attempt was foiled when the family heard the noise and called police.

Mitchell, an excommunicated Mormon, wrote a rambling manifesto last year espousing the virtues of polygamy. The Mormon church has long distanced itself from polygamy and excommunicates those who practice it.

Family members have said repeatedly that Elizabeth was brainwashed and that her loss of free will prevented her from escaping despite several opportunities to do so.

Prosecutors said Elizabeth may be asked to testify at trial.

“Of course the defendants in this case are entitled to confront witnesses, that is an important constitutional right,” Yocom said. “Close the courtroom, videotape, do other things to protect her privacy and interests. We will attempt, if it comes to that, to do that. It is very important that Elizabeth move on with this, and that her privacy rights be protected.”

Smart family spokesman Chris Thomas said the family “would rather her not take the stand, obviously because of the impact. But they’re willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that these two individuals receive the proper punishment for their crime.”

Thomas said the Smarts “empathize with the D.A.’s office. It’s a difficult position to balance prosecuting to the full extent of the law and assuring that the victim’s privacy is a top priority.”

The family will no longer answer questions from reporters about what happened to Elizabeth, Thomas said.


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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday March 19, 2003.
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