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Jury has spoken: Brian David Mitchell guilty of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart

SHARE Jury has spoken: Brian David Mitchell guilty of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart

SALT LAKE CITY — More than 8 1/2 years had passed after she was abducted from her bedroom at knifepoint, held hostage and raped for nine months. Through many of those years, she waited as her case became tied up in the legal system.

But Friday, a beaming Elizabeth Smart could finally claim that justice had been served.

"Today is a wonderful day!" Smart proclaimed. "I am so thrilled with the verdict."

After five hours of deliberation Thursday night and Friday morning, a jury found Brian David Mitchell guilty of kidnapping and taking Smart across state lines for the purpose of illegal sexual activity.

An elated Smart stood outside the federal courthouse in downtown Salt Lake City Friday, and despite the rain and hail falling around, beamed a bright smile and spoke with excitement in her voice.

Smart said she wasn't only happy for herself and her family, but for what her verdict could mean to other victims of crime.

"I am so thrilled to stand before the people of America today and give hope to other victims who have not spoken out about what has happened to them," she said while surrounded by her parents, siblings and other family members. "I hope that not only was this an example that justice can be served in America, but that it is possible to move on after something terrible has happened. We can speak out and we will be heard."

After 18 days of testimony, the seven-man five-woman jury announced its verdict at 11:06 a.m. A large smile came across Smart's face when the court clerk read the word "guilty" on the first count and she remained smiling for the rest of the hearing.

Several people teared up in the standing-room-only courtroom. Even some of the jurors admitted afterward that they had tears in their eyes.

Before reading the verdict, U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball said it had been a difficult case with "gritty and graphic" testimony, but thanked jurors for their service, saying the process couldn't work without them.

All 12 of the jurors and one of the alternates met with members of the media following the verdict. They said it was not an easy decision for them. But ultimately, based on how the law for the insanity defense is written, they unanimously believed Mitchell knew the difference between right and wrong and knew that kidnapping Smart was wrong.

When asked which of the more than three dozen witnesses who testified over the past six weeks was most compelling, the jurors named people like Dr. Michael Welner, Dr. Noel Gardner, Dr. Daniel Peterson, FBI Special Agent George Dougherty and U.S. Marshal Dennis Duranto, who testified about Mitchell's habits when he wasn't inside the courtroom. But above all, jurors said it was the compelling testimony from a strong and poised Elizabeth Smart that had some of the biggest impact on them.

After the jury was dismissed, Smart and her family began exchanging hugs with each other and with attorneys. Smart gave particularly big hugs to prosecutors Felice Viti and Diana Hagan. Smart also hugged her former missionary companion, who has sat next to her in the courtroom every day of the trial.

"I admire Elizabeth Smart so much," said Hagan. "I'm so glad it brought closure to her and her family."

"This is a very historic and momentous day in the criminal justice system in the state," said U.S. Attorney for Utah Carlie Christensen, calling the prosecution "an exceptional effort by an extraordinary trial team."

"This story begins and ends with Elizabeth Smart," Christensen said. "She is a remarkable young woman of extraordinary courage and determination. She was willing and able to recall the horrific details of a nine-month captivity and recount those events to a jury with amazing candor and clarity. The importance of her testimony to the successful outcome of this case cannot be overstated."

Robert Steele, the lead attorney on Mitchell's defense team, walked over and shook the hands of Elizabeth Smart and her parents, Ed and Lois Smart.

He complimented the jury, saying they did a "magnificent job," and said that he was not surprised by the verdict because of the very hard burden of proof the defense had.

He said his client has appeared tired in recent days but his demeanor has not changed much.

"He's more interested in his thoughts than in the trial itself," Steele said.

Nothing specific happened during the trial to create an issue to appeal the verdict, Steele said, including being rushed by Kimball.

"The judge rushed us and made me a better lawyer by doing so," he said, explaining that the early introduction of Mitchell's wife, Wanda Barzee, made his case more effective.

Steele said he will consult with Mitchell and consider any possible legal issues, including whether Salt Lake City was a fair venue for the trial, before deciding to file any appeal.

"He's very aware of the legal issues," Steele said of Mitchell. "He's not disconnected from all of that."

Mitchell was not removed from the courtroom, as he has been so many times in the past, and was present when the verdict was read. He entered the courtroom singing noticeably louder than he has at any point during the trial. He sang, "He Died! The Great Redeemer Died" and another hymn.

The more Kimball talked, the louder Mitchell seemed to sing. Mitchell's singing grew noticeably louder again as the verdict was read.

After, rather than his regular routine of being led out of the courtroom with his hands clasped in a prayer sign, this time Mitchell was handcuffed with his hands behind his back and he was taken away as a convicted sex offender.

Rebecca Woodridge, Mitchell's stepdaughter from his second marriage, started crying when the verdict was read. Outside the courthouse, she said she believes Mitchell is "frustrated with the Lord for not letting him fulfill the Lord's wishes."

Woodridge also expressed fears about Mitchell's safety in prison. "I'm afraid somebody will hurt him," she said. "I believe he's mentally ill."

Lois Smart, Elizabeth's mother, mentioned to reporters how much her daughter was glowing after Friday's decision.

"Today is such a wonderful day," she said. "I think this is an exceptionally victorious day for us all."

Ed Smart also excitedly exclaimed, "It's real! It's a wonderful day! It's been so long in coming. … There is justice in the United States!"

Smart seemed close to tearing up when talking about what his daughter had been through to get to this point and the difficult three days she spent testifying in graphic detail about her "nine months of hell."

"She's amazing. I mean she has been a rock," he said. "The competency (hearing) was one level of, 'How does a child get through this?' I heard what she was going to have to testify to (during the trial), and … it just made me sick inside. I have heard many things in the court that I have not heard from her. She said, 'Dad this is going to be hard, this is going to be so hard.' "

But Ed Smart said everyone agreed that Elizabeth's testimony was crucial in obtaining a conviction. And Friday's verdict was exactly what the Smart family expected.

"We couldn't help but feel Brian Mitchell was guilty," he said, calling Mitchell a liar, predator and sex offender. "There are people who suffer from mental illness. Brian David Mitchell is not one of them."

Ed Smart added, "Whether he wants to sing the rest of his days in prison that's up to him — and I pity him."

Mitchell will be sentenced May 25. The judge set that date to accommodate Smart's mission schedule. She plans to return to France next week to complete her LDS Church mission. Ed Smart said his family was pleased to realize the date of the sentencing is National Missing Children's Day.

When asked whether Elizabeth wanted to address Mitchell in court prior to sentencing, Ed Smart said, "Absolutely." When asked what she might say, he replied, "I'm going to leave that to her."

Mitchell could be sentenced to life in prison for each count.

Like Elizabeth, Ed Smart said Mitchell's conviction was a message for all children who are the victims of violent crimes that their voices can be heard and that justice can be served.

"As a family, we do not want to see another child affected by Brian Mitchell," Ed Smart said.

Ed Smart, who has not made any public comments since the trial began, also angrily scolded Dr. Paul Whitehead, the clinical director of the forensic unit at the Utah State Hospital. Whitehead, who believes Mitchell has delusional disorder, caused an infuriated Elizabeth Smart to storm out of the courtroom on Dec. 1 when he talked about Mitchell's alleged plan to impregnate Smart and said Smart had a name for her baby picked out should that have occurred. It was information that came from Mitchell and Barzee and was absolutely false, Ed Smart said.

"Being there in court, she was her own person. She did not have to put up with anything. And when she got up and when she walked out of there, she was walking out because she did not want to hear any more of the lies that Brian Mitchell basically perpetrated on her, on everything that happened during those nine months," he said. "I think one of the most difficult parts was to have Dr. Whitehead get up and go on. I think there is a significant problem in the state mental hospital — something that needs to be closely looked at.

"I really have a big question about Dr. Whitehead. Elizabeth told him what she thought. I think that truly there needs to be some complete re-evaluation of how that place works."

Ed Smart also expressed anger at Dr. Jennifer Skeem, whose two competency reports of Mitchell were used during his state court proceedings. One report indicated he was competent and another said he was not competent. She became the center of controversy during Mitchell's federal competency hearing because of the timing of her reports and the time when Mitchell actually started his practice of singing in the courtroom.

"I hold her very much responsible for this whole issue of competency and to me she was the one who was incompetent," Ed Smart said. The Smart family sat together in the front row of the gallery each day of the trial, and they were always standing even before the jury entered the room. Smart said that was not on accident, it was a statement.

"We were not going to sit back and let anyone make a mockery of the nine months of hell Elizabeth went through," he said. "Nobody was going to get away with lying. She was not going to put up with any more lies."

He said he isn't sure why his daughter's case has attracted the worldwide attention that it has. But his family feels an obligation to use their good fortune to help others.

"There are so many children out there who need the support and love Elizabeth has had," he said.

Other reaction on Friday's verdict came from Brett Tolman, the former U.S. attorney for Utah who lead the prosecution during Mitchell's federal competency hearing in 2009.

"I was relieved and very excited for Elizabeth and her family that they get a shot at going forward and putting this behind them. We knew at the outset before the competency hearing this was an uphill battle," he said. "The reality is Elizabeth was the heart of this case."

Tolman said he felt a sense of satisfaction for both the Elizabeth and the community.

Richard Lambert, another member of the prosecution during the competency hearing, told the Deseret News, "Brian David Mitchell will now, finally, receive a measure of the justice he labored so long to avoid."

He also gave praise to Elizabeth Smart for her courage throughout the ordeal.

Mitchell will remain in the Salt Lake County Jail for six months until his sentencing in May.

e-mail: preavy@desnews.com; pkoepp@desnews.com; emorgan@desnews.com

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