World

Elizabeth Smart kidnapper gets life sentences

Nearly nine years after she was abducted at knifepoint from her bed, Elizabeth Smart watched as a federal judge in Salt Lake City ordered a street preacher to spend the rest of his life in prison for kidnapping and raping her while holding her captive for months.
Brian David Mitchell is escorted into the Frank E. Moss Federal Courthouse in Salt Lake City. (Jim Urquhart/Associated Press)

Nearly nine years after she was abducted at knifepoint from her bed, Elizabeth Smart watched Wednesday as a federal judge in Salt Lake City ordered a street preacher to spend the rest of his life in prison for kidnapping and raping her while holding her captive for months.  

The sentencing of Brian David Mitchell closed a major legal chapter in the heartbreaking ordeal that stalled for years after Mitchell was declared mentally ill and unfit to stand trial in state court.

"I know that you know what you did is wrong," Smart said to Mitchell, who sang quietly in the courtroom. "You took away nine months of my life that can never be returned."

Elizabeth Smart listens to her father Ed Smart talk to the press after the sentencing of her kidnapper. She told Mitchell in court: 'I have a wonderful life. You will never affect me again.' ((George Frey/Getty Images))

U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball handed down two life sentences for Mitchell at the hearing in Salt Lake City. A jury earlier unanimously convicted the 57-year-old Mitchell in December of kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor across state lines for sex.

Smart testified at Mitchell's trial, but had never previously addressed him directly because he was routinely removed for disrupting the proceedings by singing.

Dressed in a gray striped skirt and yellow blouse, Smart took the witness stand for only about 30 seconds and confronted her abductor in court for the first time since the abduction ended.  

She appeared poised and composed, speaking in even tones without showing emotion as she directed her comments at Mitchell.  

"I have a wonderful life," she said. "You will never affect me again."

When the judge asked if Mitchell had anything to say, he kept right on singing. His bizarre demeanour changed just once during the hearing: As he was sentenced, he sang louder.

Smart was 14 when she was snatched from the bedroom of her family home in Salt Lake City.

Now 23, she testified in excruciating detail about waking up in the early hours of June 5, 2002, to the feel of a cold, jagged knife at her throat and being whisked away by Mitchell to his camp in the foothills near the Smart family home. 

Within hours of the kidnapping, she testified, 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.

'9 months of hell'

Smart was a steady, clear-voiced witness who never wavered with emotion, even as she described the horrific events of what she called her "nine months of hell."  

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. Daily, her life and those of her family members were threatened by Mitchell, she has said.  

"For nine months, Ms. Smart, a young teenager, was subjected to unusually heinous, cruel, brutal, and degrading treatment at the hands of the defendant, which caused great emotional, physical and psychological pain and humiliation," a federal prosecutor argued in court papers filed in support of a life sentence.  

"Those nine months can never be recovered," the document states.

On Wednesday, her father spoke to the man who kidnapped his daughter

"Exploitation of religion is not a defence," Ed Smart said. "You put Elizabeth through nine months of psychological hell." 

Smart recently returned from a Mormon church mission to France.  

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

Smart, who described her captor as vulgar and self-serving, testified that she believed Mitchell 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.

Much of the case has turned on questions over Mitchell's mental health. In federal court he was deemed competent for trial, but 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.

Mitchell finally stood trial after a key witness for federal prosecutors, New York forensic psychiatrist Dr. Michael Welner, concluded Mitchell was "malingering" or faking a mental disorder to avoid prosecution.

Wanda Barzee, Mitchell's estranged wife and a 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.

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