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Elizabeth Smart: Her story of abduction, abuse and courage

Published October 2, 2009 9:25 am

Brian David Mitchell » Girl's captor motivated by sex rather than religion, prosecutors say.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

She was calm, poised, articulate.

Elizabeth Smart took the witness stand Thursday and - for the first time since her 2002 abduction and nine months of captivity - talked publicly about living in the woods and on the road with Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Eileen Barzee.

Smart, 21, told U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball Court how Mitchell kidnapped her at knifepoint from the bedroom of her Federal Heights home in the early hours of June 5, 2002, when she was 14.

She testified about being forced to hike into the foothills behind her home to Mitchell's camp, where Barzee was waiting. And she described how Barzee forced her to remove her pajamas and put on a robe, and how Mitchell performed a marriage ceremony.

"After that, he proceeded to rape me," Smart said.

Smart said Mitchell was obsessed with sex and that he raped her three to four times a day throughout her captivity.

Mitchell claims to be a prophet of God. But Smart said, "He used religion to get what he wanted. He had an excuse for everything he did with a religious side to it."

Smart's http://www.sltrib.com/news/ci_13462888" Target="_BLANK">testimony was part of a larger hearing on whether Mitchell, who has been diagnosed with a delusional disorder, is mentally competent to stand trial for her kidnapping.

Following Smart's 1 hour and 40 minutes of testimony, U.S. District Attorney Brett Tolman said it showed that Mitchell's primary focus was getting away with criminal behavoir, rather than anything of a religious nature.

But defense attorney Robert Steele said there were indications in Smart's testimony that Mitchell is delusional.

Smart described the brutal sexual assaults she was forced to endure at the hands of Mitchell, three to four times a day throughout her captivity.

She testified that Mitchell used religion as an excuse to justify having sex with her. In the early days of her kidnapping, he kept her leg bolted to a cable attached to two trees to keep her from escaping, she said.

Mitchell forced Smart to take drugs and alcohol to lower her resistance to his sexual advances, she said. He showed her pornography and told her she needs to "be humble" to him, she said.

She said Mitchell once forced her to drink too much alcohol and she became sick. He made her lie face down in her vomit for the entire night so Smart would understand "the true state" she was in, she testified.

"Anything I showed resistance or hesitation to, he would turn to me and say, 'The Lord has commanded you to do this, you have to experience the lowest form of humanity to experience the highest.' "

Smart said she tried to fight Mitchell's sexual attacks once, when she bit him. He told her he would never have sex with her again and that she would be "miserable" because of it, but he then continued to rape her, Smart testified.

In earlier testimony, Smart recounted the night Mitchell broke into her bedroom between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m.

"He came into my room and held a knife to my throat and threatened me with my life and my family's life to come with him," Smart said.

"He placed his hand on my chest. He then put the knife up to my neck he told me to get up quietly and if I didn't then he would kill me and my family."

Smart described how Mitchell -- who was dressed in sweats, a stocking cap and tennis shoes -- ordered her to put on some shoes. He told her he was taking her hostage to hold her for ransom, Smart testified.

With a knife held to her throat, Smart went with Mitchell as he brought her to the mountains behind her home, she said. He forced her to duck down behind some bushes along the way, fearful the two would be caught. They headed three miles into the canyon, where Mitchell ultimately hid her, she said.

The two arrived at a camp where they met up with Mitchell's wife, Wanda Eileen Barzee, Smart testified. Mitchell and Barzee then prepared Smart for a "marriage ceremony," she said.

"He took me inside where Wanda then tried to force me to bathe. After arguing with her, she eventually just proceeded to wash my feet and told me to change out of my pajamas into a robe type of garment. And when I refused she said if I didn't she would have Brian Mitchell come rip my pajamas off," Smart said. "I put the robe on in which he came and performed a ceremony which was to marry me to him."

Following the ceremony, Mitchell raped her, Smart said.

Smart testified that during her captivity, Barzee became jealous of Mitchell's lustful behavior toward her and asked that Mitchell set up a rotation between the two, where he would spend every other night with Barzee. Smart said that short period was the only time she got a reprieve from Mitchell's sexual assaults; he often would find a way to rape her anyway on occasions he was "scheduled" to be with Barzee, she said.

The rotation soon ended, however, and the three went to San Diego when winter began to arrive in Utah, Smart said.

Smart described how Mitchell worked to manipulate people, including a clerk at a Wild Oats grocery store who gave him free food and an LDS family that Mitchell dined with. She said Mitchell planned to kidnap yet another wife from an LDS family he met at church and had dinner with in San Diego, but those plans didn't progress when Mitchell saw a man through the window of the family's home when he went to kidnap their teenage daughter.

Mitchell boasted of his previous sexual exploits with women, Smart said. He admitted to wanting two women in his past named Julie and Kelly to become plural wives, Smart testified. He also told Smart he had molested children in his previous marriages, she said.

"He talked about how in high school he was one of the graduating seniors and there was a girl who was younger and she was physically mature for her age and he came up behind her and stuck his hand down her shirt and walked away and nothing ever happened. And he talked about his two previous marriages and how he had been accused of molesting his second wife's youngest daughter and how nothing ever happened, how he was able to walk away from that," Smart testified.

She said she observed Mitchell singing hymns often -- a tactic he has used during court appearances, including Thursday's hearing, which has resulted in judges removing him from the courtroom. Smart testified she believes Mitchell uses singing to manipulate situations.

She said Mitchell told her he was "God's voice on Earth" and that he would "one day fight the anti-Christ."

When U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman asked Smart which words she would use to describe Mitchell, she replied, "evil, wicked, manipulative, sneaky, slimy, selfish, greedy, not spiritual, not religious, not close to God."

Smart testified she used Mitchell's radical religious beliefs to trick him into bringing her back to Utah from San Diego.

She said she knew no one would discover her in California, so she told Mitchell she" had a very strong feeling about going to Salt Lake." She asked Mitchell what God was telling him and reminded him that he had told her she "had to sink below all things to rise above all things," she testified.

Mitchell then decided to bring Smart and Barzee back to Utah, where he said he would prepare to fight the anti-Christ, who Mitchell defined in part as former LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley.

Smart's testimony attracted a throng of reporters from around the world, as well as several members of the Smart family.

Ed Smart, Elizabeth's father, said he is proud of his daughter for having the courage to testify about what happened to her. Elizabeth's vivid account should leave no doubt that Mitchell is competent, Ed Smart said.

"If this doesn't clinch the issue of competency, our nation is in very, very big difficulty," Ed Smart said.

He said his daughter's testimony revealed details of the kidnapping he had not heard about before.

"I had no idea what she'd gone through out there," Ed Smart said, his voice shaking with emotion. "To hear what a predator [Mitchell] was -- constantly -- it was horrible to hear how he abused her."

Ed Smart said his daughter was disappointed Mitchell was removed from the courtroom because she wanted to face him. She had even asked Tolman if Mitchell could be muzzled instead of removed from the proceedings, Ed Smart said.

Despite the difficult memories she shared in court, Smart remained calm, poised, articulate and never lost control of her emotions on the stand.

Court officials said Thursday that they had received coverage requests from about 30 news organizations, among them leading national and international print and television news networks.

A defense attorney said at a hearing last week that Smart should be allowed to testify about the facts of her kidnapping but not offer opinions about Mitchell's state of mind or what motivated his behavior.

A prosecutor, though, said Smart can provide important observations about Mitchell, including "that what preoccupied him was sex."

U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball, who eventually will rule on whether the prosecution can go forward, ruled Monday that Smart can give her "lay observations" at Monday's hearing.

Smart's ordeal captured worldwide attention. The girl was taken in 2002 and was rescued on March 12, 2003. In between, there was a massive search for Smart and a police investigation of hundreds of leads.

By the time Smart was found walking along State Street in Sandy with Mitchell and Barzee, the reward for finding her totaled $295,000. The money was divided among eight individuals, including two couples who called police about a minute apart when they spotted the three.

Mitchell has refused to submit to any psychological evaluations or diagnostic tests.

Tolman and Mitchell's defense attorney, Robert Steele, both praised Smart's testimony.

Steele, however, said Smart's story proves Mitchell is delusional.

Thursday's hearing concluded shortly before 11 a.m., after Smart's one hour and forty minute testimony.

The case continues on Nov. 30, when Kimball will hear from prosecution and defense witnesses in connection with Mitchell's competency.

pmanson@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">pmanson@sltrib.com

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Tribune reporters Steve Gehrke and Sheena McFarland contributed to this report.

About the case

» Brian David Mitchell, 55, and his wife, Wanda Eileen Barzee, 63, are accused of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart on June 5, 2002, from her Federal Heights home. They were arrested in March 2003 while walking in Sandy with the girl.

»A judge in the state's 3rd District Court has ruled Mitchell cannot be forcibly medicated to try to restore his mental competency; the same judge ruled Barzee could be forcibly medicated, a process that began at the Utah State Hospital in May 2008.

» The state court ruling led the U.S. Attorney's Office to begin a case against the couple. A federal grand jury issued an indictment last year charging Mitchell and Barzee with kidnapping and coercion of a minor with intent to engage in sexual activity for allegedly taking Smart from Utah to California. They face up to life in prison if convicted on the kidnapping charge.

» Mitchell was ordered to undergo mental competency examinations at a federal facility to determine if he is competent to stand trial on the federal charges.

» On Nov. 30, U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball will hear from both prosecution and defense witnesses about whether Mitchell is able to understand the charges against him and can assist in his defense. Smart's testimony is being taken Thursday because she is leaving for a mission to Paris for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

» Barzee has not been arraigned yet in the federal kidnapping case. State charges of kidnapping and sexual assault are still pending against her and Mitchell.