Every day when the Brian David Mitchell kidnapping trial begins in Judge Dale Kimball's courtroom, the most favorable evidence going for the defendant is sitting no more than 20 feet away.
That's where Elizabeth Smart sits with her family in the first row of the spectator's section.
What Mitchell did to Elizabeth when she was a young girl of 14 and 15 — and no one is disputing what he did so we can drop the "alleged" — is despicable, reprehensible, indefensible and unconscionable. Choose your adjective.
But she is alive.
For all his depravity, Mitchell did not destroy the evidence, as mainstream pedophiles are often known to do. He brutally abused her but he did not kill her.
Whatever he is, Hannibal Lecter he isn't.
The object of the trial, of course, is to determine exactly what he is: Mainstream pedophile? Common sex addict? Conman? Master manipulator? The prophet Emmanuel? Crazy like a fox? All of the Above? None of the Above?
And, once that's established: Did he know what he was doing? Did he know right from wrong?
Thus we're left with a curious daily court proceeding consisting of Mitchell's lawyers trying their best to prove their client is crazy while Mitchell does his best to help them out by bursting into song — Thursday he continued his run through Christmas tunes, starting with "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" before segueing into — you couldn't make this up — "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel."
Or is the singing merely more manipulation? It does have the effect of Kimball expelling Mitchell from the courtroom, thus sparing him from having to sit there day after day, week after week, and watch people, including his ex-wife, parade to the stand to raise their right hand and talk under oath about him, so far not a single word of it good.
Still, despite all the unconventions, this is not a hard case to decide.
After nearly a month of testimony, the answer is even more obvious than in the beginning, when it was about as obvious as the ocean being wet:
Absolutely he knew what he was doing and absolutely he knew right from wrong.
The more evidence and information that pours in — even from the defense — the more the trial qualifies on both sides as over-achievement (and a huge waste of taxpayer money).
Brian Mitchell might be mentally ill but he is not insane.
He is competent to stand trial and he is guilty. The jury will say so when the case finally ends in a week or so — exactly as they would have said right after Elizabeth Smart testified on her first day of testimony that "he raped me" and "he knew it was wrong."
That's not the hard part.
The hard part is when the trial is over.
What do you do with a man like him? What do you do with all of the societal misfits who do things to others no one would do in their right mind but aren't quite in their right mind when they do it? Who are both competent and crazy? What do you do with them? Where do you put them?
In a perfect world, there is a place for such people.
Wait, in a perfect world — they don't do it.
In an imperfect world, here's the perfect verdict — Elizabeth Smart's dad Ed gets five minutes with Brian Mitchell, alone.
It would be punishment to fit the crime.
I'm confident Ed wouldn't kill him.
Lee Benson's column runs Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Please send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.