Former street preacher gets life in Smart case


Mitchell, frail and skinny with a long, peppery white beard, sang hymns softly and closed his hollow eyes, just as he did throughout his trial, just as he would moments later as the judge gave him two life sentences without parole. That did not stop Smart from looking right at him and coolly speaking her piece.

It took her about 30 seconds.

"I don't have very much to say to you. I know exactly what you did," said Smart, wearing a houndstooth checked skirt, an ivory jacket and pearls. "I know that you know that what you did was wrong. You did it with full knowledge ... but I have a wonderful life now and no matter what you do, you will never affect me again.

"You took away nine months of my life that can never be returned. You will have to be held responsible for those actions, whether it's in this life or the next, and I hope you are ready for when that time comes."

Mitchell's sentencing closed a major legal chapter in the heartbreaking ordeal that stalled for years after he was declared mentally ill and unfit to stand trial in state court. A federal jury in December unanimously convicted the 57-year-old of kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor across state lines for sex.

When the judge asked if he had anything to say, Mitchell, whose hands and feet were bound, kept right on singing. His bizarre demeanor changed just once during the hearing: As he was sentenced, he sang louder.

Outside the courthouse, a beaming Smart, now a Brigham Young University music student, told reporters that the sentencing "is the ending of a very long chapter and the beginning of a very beautiful chapter for me." She said she wants to work with other crime victims and lend her support to the cause of missing children.

Smart was snatched from her Salt Lake City bedroom by knifepoint in the early hours of June 5, 2002. The massive search to find the blond-haired, blue-eyed girl riveted the nation, as did her improbable recovery while walking with her captor on a suburban Salt Lake City-area street on March 12, 2003.

At trial, she testified in a steady, clear voice about her "nine months of hell." Mitchell whisked her away to his camp in the foothills near the family home. She was stripped of her favorite red pajamas, draped in white, religious robes and forced into a polygamous marriage with Mitchell. She was tethered to a metal cable strung between two trees and subjected to near-daily rapes while being forced to use alcohol and drugs.

Mitchell, who outlined his religious beliefs in a rambling 27-page manifesto he called "The Book of Immanuel David Isaiah," took Smart to California for five of the months she was held captive. She recalled being forced to live homeless, dress in disguises and stay quiet or lie about her identity if ever approached by strangers or police. She said he threatened her life and the lives of her family every day.

U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball said Mitchell deserved a life sentence because the facts of the case were "unusually heinous and degrading."

Carlie Christensen, U.S. attorney for Utah, said the resolution was long overdue for Smart and her family. "It is a measure of justice for Elizabeth and it will certainly ensure Brian David Mitchell will never inflict such intolerable and unspeakable cruelty on anyone else again," Christensen said.

The defense waived its closing remarks before sentencing. Parker Douglas, a member of Mitchell's defense team, said outside the courthouse that the sentence was not unexpected.

"I wish Elizabeth Smart and her family the best. I hope they get to move on," Douglas said. He added that the decision about whether to appeal depends largely on what Mitchell wants.

Though Smart testified at Mitchell's trial, she never addressed him directly then because he was removed from the courtroom each day after singing hymns to disrupt the proceedings. On Wednesday he sang songs including "Come Come Ye Saints" and "O Come O Come Emmanuel."

"Exploitation of religion is not a defense," Smart's father, Ed, said at Mitchell's sentencing, in a statement that was even shorter than his daughter's. "You put Elizabeth through nine months of psychological hell."

The facts of the case have never been in dispute, but defense attorneys have said Mitchell's actions were tainted by mental illness and long-held delusional beliefs that he had been commanded by God to fulfill important prophecies.

Elizabeth Smart, who recently returned from a Mormon church mission in France, described her captor as vulgar and self-serving when she testified at trial. She said she believed he was driven by his desire for sex, drugs and alcohol, not by any sincere religious beliefs.

"Nine months of living with him and seeing him proclaim that he was God's servant and called to do God's work and everything he did to me and my family is something that I know that God would not tell somebody to do," Smart said during the trial.

Mitchell was deemed competent for a federal trial, though a parallel state case -- where he remains charged with six felonies -- stalled after a judge twice determined he was unfit and rejected a petition for forced treatment. A key witness for federal prosecutors, New York forensic psychiatrist Dr. Michael Welner, concluded that Mitchell was "malingering" or faking a mental disorder to avoid prosecution.

Defense attorneys maintain Mitchell needs psychiatric attention and asked the judge to recommend incarceration in a federal prison hospital rather than a standard prison.

Wanda Barzee, his estranged wife and co-defendant in the case, is already serving a 15-year sentence in a federal prison hospital in Texas for her role in the kidnapping.

Barzee, 65, pleaded guilty to federal kidnapping and unlawful transportation charges in November 2009. Upon her release, Barzee is expected to be transferred to the Utah State Prison to serve a sentence on a conviction in a companion case involving the attempted abduction in 2002 of Smart's cousin.

Mitchell's ex-wife, Debbie Mitchell, praised the Smart family for their courage.

"There's some closure to it, knowing he'll never molest another child," she said. "We've never heard him say he's sorry. He got caught. We never heard him apologize or say he regretted his actions."

Rebecca Woodridge, Mitchell's former stepdaughter, said she wants to thank Elizabeth Smart and confront her stepfather, who she says abused her for five years when she was a child.

Woodbridge said she talked to Mitchell Tuesday and asked if he had anything to say to the public. He told her that he doesn't think the world is ready to hear what he has to say.


Associated Press Writer Chi-Chi Zhang contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.