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Trial In Smart Abduction Case Is Delayed By Defense's Concerns About Jury

Brian David Mitchell is escorted into the Frank E. Moss Federal Courthouse Thursday.

Brian David Mitchell is escorted into the Frank E. Moss Federal Courthouse Thursday, before judges delayed his trial on charges of kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor. Jim Urquhart/FR170447 AP hide caption

itoggle caption Jim Urquhart/FR170447 AP

With Elizabeth Smart looking on, a jury finally seated and opening statements underway, U.S. District Court Judge Dale Kimball reluctantly halted the trial of Smart's alleged kidnapper Thursday.

A three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals ordered the trial interrupted in response to federal defense attorneys representing Brian David Mitchell, the itinerant street preacher accused of abducting Smart from her Salt Lake City bedroom in 2002 and holding her captive for nine months.

Mitchell's defense team had appealed Kimball's rejection of their motion to move the trial outside of Utah.  The defense argues that extensive publicity about the case has been so prejudicial that seating a fair jury is impossible.

In an earlier decision, the Appeals Court ruled that it would consider the issue after jury selection, if the defense believed prejudicial jurors were seated.

Jury selection was completed Thursday morning. The prosecution had finished its opening statement and the defense had begun to present its case when Kimball suddenly called attorneys to the bench. "I'm, of course, very unhappy about this," Kimball told the jury as he sent the panel home for the day.

During jury selection, prospective jurors were questioned about their attitudes toward an insanity defense, what they had heard and believed about Mitchell, and whether they could consider the evidence fairly.

The defense believed that even jurors who claimed they'd be fair will still be affected by the blanket publicity and pressure from family and friends.

Elizabeth Smart, now 22, had returned from a Mormon mission in France and was sitting in the courtroom with her family. Her mother, Lois, and her younger sister, Mary Katherine, were expected to testify this afternoon. Smart was expected to testify next week.

The defense has indicated it would mount an insanity defense. Mitchell escaped state prosecution for the kidnapping when a state judge declared him mentally incompetent and unable to assist in his own defense.

That prompted federal charges and a competency hearing a year ago, in which Smart testified that Mitchell was manipulative and calculating. Calm and composed, Smart said Mitchell was faking mental illness. A federal judge declared Mitchell competent.

Mitchell was not in the courtroom when the delay was announced.  He had been removed to a holding cell with a video feed, because his incessant singing of hymns disrupted the proceedings. Mitchell typically sings in court and is then removed.

Prosecutors declined to comment about the delay.

The Appeals Court panel gave the prosecution and defense until midnight Thursday to file briefs in the case, indicating it intends to consider the issue quickly. The trial is not scheduled to resume until Monday.

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