Captor kept me on tether, Elizabeth Smart testifies

Elizabeth Smart, now 21 and in college, testified that Brian Mitchell raped her daily.
Elizabeth Smart was not afraid to face Brian Mitchell in her first testimony detailing her 2002 abduction.

In fact, her father said, she wanted the man who allegedly kept her tethered to a tree in the Utah woods muzzled and forced to listen to her testimony. Mitchell was in court Thursday for a competency hearing, but Smart never saw him because U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball ordered him removed from the court when he ignored requests to stop singing and disrupting the proceedings. He watched via a closed-circuit camera from another room. “She actually wanted to face him,” Ed Smart said. “I think she asked [U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman] if he could be muzzled and have to sit there and watch it.” Tolman, standing alongside Smart’s father after Thursday’s hearing in Salt Lake City, confirmed the 21-year-old woman’s request: “She did ask me whether or not [Mitchell] got to see that testimony and hear that testimony, and I indicated to her, to her relief, that he was there in a room with the audio and video and had nothing else to do but listen.” Mitchell is accused of abducting Smart from the bedroom of her Salt Lake City, Utah, home in June 2002. She testified that she was kept captive in Utah and California until March 2003, when she was found walking down a street in Sandy, Utah, with Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee. Smart said that, during those nine months, no 24-hour period passed without Mitchell being able to rape her. Public defender Robert Steele says Mitchell is mentally ill, but Tolman said he believes that Mitchell “has attempted to fool or to deceive the system.”

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Ed Smart said he hopes his daughter’s testimony nixes the notion that Mitchell cannot stand trial, “and if this doesn’t clinch the issue of competency, our nation is in really, really bad shape, because it means that anyone out there can manipulate and make the court do what it wants.” Watch Smart’s father talk about the hearing Mitchell and Barzee are charged with six felony counts, including aggravated burglary, aggravated kidnapping and aggravated sexual assault. Smart’s testimony began with details of how she was abducted at knife point while she slept next to her sister. She was 14 at the time. She said Mitchell took her to a wooded area not far from her home, performed a marriage ceremony and began raping her. Mitchell often sang about his intentions, she testified: “He would come up the mountainside, yelling, ‘I’m going to [expletive] your eyes out.’ ” Mitchell also threatened to kill her if she tried to escape, Smart said. “He said an angel would strike me down with a sword,” she said, “but he also told me that he would be that angel.” Mitchell gave her drugs and alcohol, showed her pornography and used religion to justify most of his actions, she testified. He also said he was God’s servant, a prophet, and would one day face and kill the Antichrist, she said. On one occasion, Smart said, she vomited after Mitchell gave her too much to drink. “He let me lie face-down in my vomit for the entire night until I woke up the next day,” she told the court. “He said that was showing my true state, that I was laying face-down in my vomit.” That morning illustrated a recurring theme, she said, explaining that Mitchell often rationalized his actions by saying they would ultimately yield greater spirituality. “He said that first I had to be humbled and to sink below all things before arising above all things,” she recalled. “You have to experience the lowest form of humanity to experience the highest.” Smart, now a Brigham Young University student and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, described Mitchell as “evil, wicked, manipulative, sneaky, slimy, selfish, greedy, not spiritual, not religious, not close to God.” During her nine months in captivity, Mitchell kept her in Utah until the winter approached, at which point he transported her to San Diego, California, she said. It’s unclear when they returned to Utah, but Elizabeth Smart testified that she convinced Mitchell that they should hitchhike back to Salt Lake City. She told the court her ulterior motive was to return to an area where she more easily could be recognized and rescued. While in Utah, Mitchell kept her confined with a cable attached to her leg, she said. The 10-foot tether was locked on to another cable that was 15 to 20 feet long. “He had a big cable bolted onto my leg, which was strung between two trees, and there was a lock that would slide between the two trees,” she said. “He had the key around his neck the entire time.” Asked how often she was raped, she replied, “On a daily basis, up to three or four times.” She resisted his advances several times, she said, once biting him as he tried to have sex with her. “He said that if I ever did that again, he would never have sex with me again, and I would be the most miserable woman in the world,” she said. “It didn’t make a difference that he said that. I mean, it didn’t stop him.” After the hearing, Ed Smart said he was “amazed at her strength” and “I don’t know how she could have done a better job.” Asked about his daughter’s reaction following her testimony, he said, “Phew, it’s over.” He bordered on tears when asked whether he had learned anything Thursday about his daughter’s abduction. “There were certainly a lot of things that I had never heard before, and I had no idea what she had gone through — so much out there,” he said. Prosecutor Tolman said Smart’s “powerful” testimony demonstrated that Mitchell was manipulative and inclined to be deceptive, but defense attorney Steele said Mitchell’s guile did not negate his mental illness. “Those things can exist side by side: manipulativeness and mental illness,” he said. Smart testified Thursday because she is scheduled to leave soon on a mission, customary of the Mormon religion. The prosecution plans to call dozens of witnesses when the competency hearing continues at the end of November, Tolman said. Included are people who have been incarcerated with Mitchell, he said. “The battle is not over. This is the very beginning of it,” he said.

Asked whether he would be willing to accept a plea bargain, Tolman said there was no indication that one was imminent. “We’re inclined to prosecute this case vigorously and present it to a jury,” he said.