A man accused of abducting a young girl for nine months is finally facing trial, after years of delays caused by questions about his mental health and a jump from state to federal court.
Jury selection began Monday in U.S. District Court for the former street preacher charged in the 2002 kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart. Brian David Mitchell was indicted in March 2008 on federal charges of kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor across state lines. If convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in prison.
Smart, now 22, was 14 when she was kidnapped at knifepoint from her home on June 5, 2002. She was recovered nine months later — in March 2003 — after a motorist spotted her walking the streets of a Salt Lake City suburb with Mitchell and his now-estranged wife, Wanda Eileen Barzee.
Federal prosecutors moved to take over the case in 2008 after a parallel state court case stalled over questions about Mitchell's mental health.
U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball decided earlier this year that the 57-year-old is competent to face trial.
Some 600 potential jurors were called. After exclusions based on hardships or responses to a 42-page juror questionnaire, about 220 remain and will be questioned in person by attorneys for both sides.
Jury selection could take several weeks, and the trial is expected to last into December.
Defense attorneys had sought to move the trial out of Utah, claiming that publicity of the case since Smart's abduction in 2002 had tainted the jury pool and make it difficult for Mitchell to get a fair trial. Both Kimball and the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver rejected that request.
Smart is expected to return to Utah from serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in France to testify against Mitchell. Smart testified for the first time last year as part of a competency hearing for Mitchell, saying that within hours of her kidnapping she was forced to become Mitchell's polygamous wife and endured repeated rapes and other abuses throughout her captivity.
Barzee, 64, pleaded guilty last year to federal charges related to Smart's kidnapping and is serving a 15-year term in federal prison. The plea came after Barzee was ordered by a state judge to undergo forced mental health treatment at the Utah State Hospital to restore her competency to stand trial.
As part of a plea agreement, Barzee said she would cooperate with prosecutors in cases pending in state and federal court. But Barzee's name doesn't appear on the list of 22 witnesses the government plans to call in Mitchell's trial. Instead, court papers show Barzee listed among the 24 people defense attorneys plan to call to testify on Mitchell's behalf.
Mitchell was diagnosed with a delusional disorder and was twice deemed incompetent for trial in state court.
Defense attorneys maintain Mitchell is unable to participate in his own defense. In court papers, attorneys have said they'll mount an insanity defense, claiming Mitchell was so impaired in 2002 that he can't be held legally responsible.
The man standing trial in the abduction of Elizabeth Smart has been kicked out of the courtroom for singing hymns as jury selection got under way.
Brian David Mitchell was moved to another room at federal court in Salt Lake City to watch Monday's proceedings by remote video.
U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball tolerated about a half-hour of Mitchell's soft hymns before ordering him out of the courtroom.
Kimball also rejected Mitchell's request to don robes he was wearing when he was arrested with Smart in 2003, nine months after the girl vanished from her bedroom.
Mitchell is charged with kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor across state lines. If convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in prison.