Monday, November 1, 2010

Elizabeth Smart's Alleged Kidnapper Faces Trial

Elizabeth Smart

More than eight years after Elizabeth Smart disappeared, the bearded itinerant preacher who allegedly snatched her from her suburban Utah bedroom goes on trial on kidnapping charges.

The fresh-faced 14-year-old's vanishing in June 2002 riveted Americans, who watched nearly daily TV interviews with her anguished parents pleading for her return. Smart's miraculous rescue nine months later was a rare happy ending in a string of missing girl cases, but it also exposed a bizarre, fanatical offshoot of the Mormon faith, in which Brian David Mitchell allegedly believed he was a prophet destined to make the young teenager his plural wife.

Jury selection was scheduled to begin today in federal court in Salt Lake City, where 57-year-old Mitchell is charged with kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor across state lines. For the latter charge, Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Eileen Barzee, are accused of taking Smart to San Diego in the summer of 2002. Barzee is serving a 15-year sentence after pleading guilty in federal court.

Douglas C. Pizac, AP
Brian David Mitchell, the accused kidnapper of Elizabeth Smart, enters court for his competency hearing in Salt Lake City in 2006.

It's taken so long to bring Mitchell to trial because of questions about his mental health, as well as a jump from state to federal court. In 2003, Mitchell was charged with aggravated kidnapping and aggravated sexual assault, but his state court proceedings were stalled after he was diagnosed with a delusional disorder and judged incompetent to stand trial.

A few months before Smart's kidnapping, Mitchell penned a 27-page manifesto titled "The Book of Immanuel David Isaiah," in which he proclaims himself a prophet and predicted he would eventually take seven wives. The second of those was supposed to be Elizabeth. He had worked in her home as a handyman. Mitchell is accused slicing through a kitchen window screen and abducting the teen in the middle of the night, Salt Lake City's ABC 4 TV station reported.

During a competency hearing last year, Smart -- who is now 22 -- testified that Mitchell took her in her pajamas to a mountain campsite where he performed a religious ceremony and then raped her. "He told me he was a prophet," she said in her first public testimony, according to The Associated Press. "He said he was the voice of God on Earth and that he would reign over God's children until Jesus came."

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