Douglas C. Pizac/Getty Images
Elizabeth Smart's accused kidnapper, Brian David Mitchell, sings a hymn at a competency hearing in Salt Lake City in February 2005. Smart's father, Ed Smart, says Mitchell is faking mental illness.
Elizabeth Smart's accused kidnapper, Brian David Mitchell, sings a hymn at a competency hearing in Salt Lake City in February 2005. Smart's father, Ed Smart, says Mitchell is faking mental illness. Douglas C. Pizac/Getty Images
It's been six years since then-15-year-old Elizabeth Smart was rescued after nine months in captivity. So, federal prosecutors say, it's about time she had the opportunity to tell her story.
"We plead with this court to give Elizabeth Smart the voice she never wanted to have, but which Brian David Mitchell forced her to have," Assistant U.S. Attorney David Backman said at a hearing in federal court in Salt Lake City on Friday.
Mitchell is the itinerant street preacher who allegedly forced Smart at knife point from her bedroom in 2002. Investigators say Mitchell held Smart for nine months and treated her as a polygamous wife. Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee, were charged in state and federal court with kidnapping and sexual assault.
Smart has not appeared in court in the case and has not described her ordeal publicly. But she now has that opportunity as part of a federal competency hearing for Mitchell.
Smart's father, Ed Smart, says his daughter, now 21, is ready and willing to tell her story to help expose what he believes is Mitchell's faked mental illness.
"Elizabeth can certainly provide what she dealt with for nine months," he told reporters after the hearing, "how [Mitchell] manipulated the system."
Both the prosecution and defense agree that Smart can testify. But federal defender Robert Steele argues the court should not allow her to give her opinion about Mitchell's sanity and state of mind.
Before the hearing Friday, Mitchell was escorted into court shackled at the waist and ankles, and singing a Mormon hymn.
"You have a constitutional right to be present," Judge Dale Kimball told him, "but you do not have a constitutional right to sing." Mitchell didn't stop, so Kimball sent him to a holding cell where Mitchell could watch the proceedings remotely. He has repeatedly refused to cooperate with his attorneys and psychiatric experts.
The prosecution and the Smarts believe Smart's testimony will help show that Mitchell is more competent than he appears.
"Elizabeth Smart is important because she knows how the defendant is behind closed doors," Backman told the court. "She's much more equipped to tell the court how the defendant acts when he's not under the microscope."
Smart told investigators that after abducting her on June 6, 2002, Mitchell held her in a foothills camp before taking her to California and then back to Utah. She was recognized on the street of a Salt Lake City suburb in 2003 and rescued by police, who arrested Mitchell and Barzee.
Both Mitchell and Barzee were found incompetent and unable to assist in their defense in state courts. State prosecutors are seeking to forcibly medicate Barzee so she can be tried.
Federal prosecutors are now trying to put Mitchell on trial but again face claims of mental incompetence.
Backman says Smart can demonstrate that Mitchell was calculating and manipulative, and not the religious man he claimed to be.
"She would testify that what preoccupied [Mitchell] was sex," Backman said in court. "That's what drove him, and only Elizabeth Smart can give that testimony."
Ed Smart acknowledged that testifying would be difficult for his daughter.
"I'm sure it's nothing she wants to do," he told reporters. "But I think she does not want to see Mitchell go on the way he is. If it takes getting up there and testifying, then she's willing to do that."
Kimball said he'll rule Monday on whether Smart will testify and whether there are limits to her testimony. A special hearing just for her testimony is already scheduled Oct. 1. The hearing is timed so Smart can continue with a planned Mormon mission without delay. The rest of the competency hearing for Mitchell is scheduled to begin Nov. 30.