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Finally, a trial in Elizabeth Smart kidnapping

Brian David Mitchell
Brian David Mitchell
August Miller, Deseret News

Just when it appeared justice finally would be done in the Elizabeth Smart case, attorneys for the man accused of kidnapping her, Brian David Mitchell, tried for yet another delay. We're glad U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball rejected that motion Tuesday. It's time to begin the trial.

The public, as expressed in letters to our Readers' Forum and elsewhere, has asked frequently whether eight years of delay isn't enough for this disturbing crime. We think that is a good question.

Mitchell's attorneys have asked the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to move the trial out of Utah because of intense media coverage. We appreciate the many legal avenues that are in place to protect a defendant's right to a fair trial. This is a nation ruled by laws, not by passions, and the Smart case raised many strong emotions among the public, which is one reason it received so much media attention.

But that media attention was by no means limited to Utah. Every major network carried several stories, and the investigation and arrests in the case were discussed endlessly on talk shows from coast to coast.

Meanwhile, that is all fading into the distant past, even as evidence gets cold and memories fade.

Kimball took all this into consideration last week when he issued a decision that Mitchell could receive a fair trial in Salt Lake City. Kimball reviewed more than 330 questionnaires that had been filled out by potential jurors. Most said they were aware of the case and that they receive most of their information from the media. But, according to Kimball, they also were devoid of hostility toward Mitchell, said they were skeptical of media reports and provided thoughtful responses that showed they had not prejudged the case.

As Kimball noted in his decision, it is not necessary to find a jury that has no prior knowledge of the case whatsoever. The important thing is to find jurors who are undecided and open-minded. In his opinion, the surveys showed more than 100 jurors would be qualified to serve even if the defense removed everyone who possibly might have prejudged the case.

The trial will begin Monday — at long last. Kimball has twice ruled that Mitchell could receive a fair trial in Utah. Before that, the court was tied up in long delays over whether Mitchell, who frequently begins singing in the courtroom, is mentally competent to stand trial. Mitchell's estranged wife, Wanda Barzee, pleaded guilty to federal kidnapping charges more than a year ago. Meanwhile, Smart, who is now 22, has arranged to take a temporary leave from her mission in France for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to testify at the trial.

This is, at its heart, a case involving an innocent 14-year-old girl who was kidnapped from her bedroom and subjected to nine months of dehumanizing captivity. The victim has handled herself with dignity and grace in the intervening years, but she deserves justice. The delays in this case strain credulity. We're glad Kimball acted quickly to deny the motion to delay things even further. It's time to bring closure to this awful crime.