Elizabeth Smart, abducted in 2002 in Utah, speaks publicly of her ordeal for the first time
For the first time since her 2002 abduction captured worldwide attention, Elizabeth Smart spoke publicly about her ordeal, testifying Thursday in federal court that self-proclaimed religious prophet Brian David Mitchell repeatedly invoked religion to justify the sexual abuse she said she endured for nine months.
“Any time that I showed resistance or hesitation he turned to me and said, ‘The Lord says you have to do this, you have to experience the lowest form of humanity to experience the highest,’ ” said Smart, who was 14 when she was kidnapped.
Testifying in a hearing to determine whether Mitchell is mentally competent to face federal kidnapping charges, Smart, now 21, calmly said she had been shackled and repeatedly raped. She testified that Mitchell “married” her in a bizarre wedding ceremony the night of her abduction and that he believed he would vanquish the anti-Christ someday soon.
Her kidnapping set off a nationwide search, which ended in 2003 when a motorist spotted Smart, who was a wearing blue pillowcase-like veil over her face, as she walked down a street in a Salt Lake City suburb with Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee. The motorist recognized Mitchell from news reports.
Mitchell and Barzee have been ruled mentally incompetent to stand trial in state court. Federal prosecutors have filed kidnapping charges against them and called Smart as a witness to bolster their case that Mitchell, who has been in a state mental hospital for years, is faking his mental illness to avoid punishment.
Smart has remained largely out of the public eye since her abduction, though she appeared on CNN to offer advice to Jaycee Lee Dugard, who in August was discovered 18 years after being kidnapped from South Lake Tahoe.
“I would just encourage her to find different passions in life and continually push forward and learn more and reach more for them,” Smart said, “and not to look behind, because there’s a lot out there.”
Smart was the only witness who testified Thursday. The hearing was scheduled to allow her to leave for a Mormon mission in France. Mitchell’s competency hearing will continue Nov. 30.
Mitchell entered the courtroom first, pale and sporting an unruly gray beard. He wore a beige jumpsuit, his hands and ankles shackled. As he has throughout the proceedings, he continuously sang a Mormon hymn and ignored U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball’s order to stop. U.S. marshals moved him to a holding cell where he watched the proceedings via video link.
Smart had asked U.S. Atty. Brett Tolman if Mitchell could be muzzled rather than removed from court because she wanted to face him.
She remained poised throughout her 100-minute testimony. The only hint of emotion came when Tolman -- referring to a manifesto Mitchell had written to allegedly justify his behavior -- asked Smart about Mitchell’s reported contention that she could have escaped if she had wanted and that she had opened the window to her bedroom the night she was taken.
“No,” she said with a steely tone.
Smart testified that on June 4, 2002, Mitchell woke her in the middle of the night with a knife pressed to her throat, and that Mitchell threatened to kill her and her family unless she came with him. She said he led her to a remote camp in a canyon in the mountains behind the Smarts’ Salt Lake City home, where he took her as a “plural bride” in the wedding ceremony.
He then raped her, something that happened three to four times a day, Smart said. “There wasn’t an actual 24-hour time period that he wasn’t able to rape me.”
She said that Mitchell and Barzee locked a cable around her leg and fastened it to a tree. Smart testified that during one sexual assault, she bit him to make him stop. He chided her for the bite, she said, but didn’t stop.
Another time, when Barzee was reportedly becoming jealous of Mitchell’s attentions toward Smart, Mitchell took the girl away from the camp and asked if he could have sex with her, Smart said. She testified that she said no.
“How did it make you feel to say no to him on that occasion?” Tolman asked her.
“Wonderful,” she said.
As winter approached, Smart said Mitchell moved her and Barzee to a camp in the hills outside San Diego. The three survived on food Mitchell stole, and on one of his foraging runs Mitchell got drunk and high on stolen prescription drugs, broke into a church and passed out, she said. He didn’t get out of jail for almost a week, and Smart said she and Barzee survived on rainwater.
She said she decided to use religion against him. She said she told Mitchell that she thought God was calling them back to Salt Lake City, and he agreed to return there.
“California, I felt that was so far away. I felt that no one would ever find me,” she testified. “Even if it took 20 years to find me I thought the chances would be better in Salt Lake.”
Tolman asked her what words she would use to describe Mitchell. “Evil, wicked, manipulative,” she replied. “Sneaky, slimy, selfish, greedy. Not religious, not spiritual, not close to God.”
Smart’s family sat in the front row for her testimony. Outside the courthouse, her father, Ed Smart, praised her composure. “I was very proud of her, how she was so forthright,” he said.
He had never heard some of the stories she told Thursday. “I had no idea what she’d gone through,” he said, choking up. Ed Smart said the testimony should “clinch” the issue of whether Mitchell is mentally competent to stand trial.
Mitchell’s attorney, deputy federal public defender Bob Steele, said he was impressed by Smart’s testimony. “She was courageous and very generous,” he said. “You can’t hear that kind of thing without being appalled.”