ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
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And I'm Melissa Block.
Seven years ago, the abduction of a Utah girl, Elizabeth Smart, made headlines worldwide. Today she spoke for the first time in public about her ordeal. Smart testified in a federal court in Salt Lake City for an hour and 40 minutes. She described in painful detail her nine months in captivity.
The testimony was part of a competency hearing for Brian David Mitchell. He's a self-proclaimed prophet who allegedly abducted Smart and held her as a polygamist wife.
NPR's Howard Berkes was in the courtroom, and we warn listeners what he reports is graphic and may be disturbing for some listeners.
HOWARD BERKES: Elizabeth Smart stepped up to the witness stand smiling and composed, precisely 6,659 days and 7 hours after the man she identified as Brian David Mitchell took her at knifepoint from her Salt Lake City bedroom. She was 14 then. She's 21 now. Her father, mother, grandmother, siblings, uncles and other relatives watched from the first row of seats.
Mitchell had been kicked out of the courtroom before Smart arrived because he wouldn't stop his incessant singing of hymns. He watched and listened from a holding cell, as Smart described him as evil, wicked, manipulative, stinky, slimy, selfish, not spiritual, not religious and not close to God. Prosecutors used Smart's testimony to underscore their central point: Mitchell, they insist, is faking mental illness so he won't have to go trial.
For 100 minutes, Smart described Mitchell as a sex-crazed hypocrite who used religion to get sex, food, drugs and alcohol. She maintained her composure as she described being raped three to four times a day during nine months as Mitchell's captive. And he was crude about it, she said. Quoting him saying he was going to "F her eyes out."
Anytime she showed resistance or hesitation, she said, he told her the Lord wants you to experience this. Mitchell bragged about manipulating people, Smart testified. And she was told she'd be killed if she tried to escape or yell out or not do what Mitchell wanted.
Federal defender Bob Steele tried to elicit testimony showing Mitchell is too unstable to assist in his own defense. He had Smart describe Mitchell's claim about being a prophet who would reign over the children of God until Christ returned, and then become Christ's mouthpiece.
When the lawyers were finished, Smart left the courtroom arm-in-arm with her mother and did not speak to reporters outside, but her grandmother Dorotha and Uncle Tom did.
Ms. DOROTHA SMART: It's like she always is, just calm and honest and straightforward, and I just thought she did beautifully.
Mr. TOM SMART: The biggest step was for her to get this out of the way in her life.
Unidentified Man: Elizabeth has been ready to move on for a long time. We're just very, very proud of her. She did a great job. We really don't want to answer any more questions.
BERKES: U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman called Smart's testimony key to demonstrating competency, because Mitchell won't cooperate with attempts to asses him.
Mr. BRETT TOLMAN (Attorney): We said all along that one of the most important things in this case would be those that spent time with the defendant, as the psychologists have not been able to conduct psychological testing, standard psychological testing. Those witnesses that spent time with him and have observed him are the most important - and none more important than Elizabeth.
BERKES: Mitchell was ruled incompetent twice before in state courts, a federal indictment followed and now federal prosecutors are going through the mental competency process. Federal defender Bob Steele says he's tried to engage Mitchell in his own defense.
Mr. BOB STEELE (Federal Defender): I don't believe he can rationally assist me in presenting his case.
BERKES: And Steele doesn't believe evidence of manipulation disproves mental illness.
Mr. STEELE: Do we imagine that the mentally ill aren't manipulative, that they only have nice traits? Those things can exist side-by-side: manipulativeness and mental illness.
BERKES: Smart's testimony began a competency hearing that resumes November 30th. Today's appearance was scheduled so that Smart can leave soon for a Mormon mission. If Mitchell is ruled competent and if his case goes to trial, Elizabeth Smart will likely testify again.
Howard Berkes, NPR News, Salt Lake City.
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