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Elizabeth Smart's cunning plan ended nightmare

Published November 9, 2010 10:35 pm

Mitchell trial • Victim recounts what she endured in Utah and California.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

When the pressure is on, Brian David Mitchell reacts more like a cunning master criminal than a crazy religious zealot, prosecutors attempted to show Tuesday during Elizabeth Smart's second day on the witness stand.

Take, for instance, Mitchell's deft deflection of a Salt Lake City homicide detective who suspected the robed and veiled girl sitting with a similarly attired woman in the downtown library in August 2002 was the missing 14-year-old.

Smart testified that Mitchell was in the bathroom when the detective introduced himself to her and Mitchell's wife, Wanda Eileen Barzee, and said he was looking for Elizabeth Smart.

The detective asked the girl to remove her veil, but Mitchell stepped in, saying he was the girl's father and that, for religious reasons, only her husband could ever see her face.

The detective kept pushing to remove the veil, but "the defendant was very calm, and he very coolly said only her husband would be able to do that," Smart testified. The detective left, and Smart remained Mitchell's captive for another seven months.

"I felt like hope was walking out the door," Smart said. "I was mad at myself that I didn't say anything. I was mad at myself for just not taking the chance. ... I felt terrible. ... Maybe something would have happened to me or happened to my family, but maybe nothing might have happened."

Smart was referring to Mitchell's repeated death threats — not only against her but her whole family.

At the same time, Mitchell was systematically stripping Smart's identity from her. He had given her a new name, that of biblical Isaiah's son, Shear-Jashub, and told her she needed to "sever all ties with the world" and her family.

Mitchell also gave her a linen robe and face veil to wear and forced her to burn the red pajamas she had worn the night of her abduction. He also took her running shoes and replaced them with sandals.

After the library incident, Mitchell also added to the outfit a veil that covered her eyes.

"He said that the world wasn't ready for the light that was in my eyes," Smart said.

After burning her pajamas, Smart said she plucked from the fire a safety pin that had closed the collar of her pajama top. She used the safety pin to attach a small, round piece of the sole of one of her shoes to a piece of paper she kept in a three-ring binder.

"I didn't want to let go of my family and my life," Smart explained.

Weeks later, however, Mitchell found the keepsakes and insisted she get rid of them.

Religion used as control • Mitchell, once again, wasn't in the courtroom Tuesday for Smart's testimony.

U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball has ordered Mitchell removed from court every day since the trial began last week because he won't stop singing.

Mitchell's defense team will try to convince jurors the 57-year-old homeless street preacher isn't guilty by reason of insanity for the crimes of kidnapping and transporting a minor across state lines to engage in sexual activity.

Smart, now 23, called Mitchell a manipulator who used religion to control people and get what he wanted.

According to her testimony, what Mitchell seemed to want most was sex and alcohol, and the person he most often manipulated was Barzee, now 65.

After Smart was kidnapped at knifepoint from her Federal Heights home on June 5, 2002, she said Mitchell marched into the nearby foothills, forced her to become a "plural wife" and had sex with her on an almost daily basis.

That caused numerous arguments between Mitchell and Barzee, who felt she was being neglected. But Smart said Mitchell could quickly calm Barzee with a "divine revelation." Smart said he would tell Barzee, "I feel like the Lord has something to tell you."

Then he would put his hands on her head, "give her a blessing" and tell her she needed to be "patient with his weaknesses."

Mitchell had a similar revelation when Barzee decided he was drinking too much. "He said he needed alcohol as a support in the face of the world," Smart testified.

Smart said that when Barzee again complained Mitchell was "lusting after me too much and not fulfilling her needs," he gave Barzee a blessing that included a schedule: He would be with Barzee from morning until midday, and with Smart from midday until the following morning.

Smart said the schedule backfired on Mitchell one morning while the two of them were fetching water from a spring. Mitchell wanted sex, but Smart reminded him of the schedule. When Mitchell said Barzee would never know, Smart said she would tell her — and Mitchell left her alone.

Asked federal Prosecutor Felice Viti, "How did that make you feel?"

"One for the Smart team," Smart said with a smile.

Smart said Mitchell removed the cable tethering her to a tree about six weeks after her abduction. But Mitchell continued to say he would kill her and her family if she tried to escape.

Despite an earlier decision not to try to flee, she made an attempt one day, while Mitchell "was very, very drunk."

"I didn't make it very far," she said. "They noticed quite quickly, and they told me that if I ever tried that again that I would be killed. I would be stopped by an angel with a sword and I would be cut down. He also said that he would put me back on the cable."

"Plundering" • Following Smart's untethering, the trio made a number of trips down the mountain to Salt Lake City, where Mitchell panhandled for cash and shoplifted beer and other items from stores.

Smart said Mitchell called shoplifting "plundering."

"He said it was like in the Bible, when the children of Israel would go and fight a city or when they would capture a city," Smart recalled. "They would go and take the goods or plunder the goods from the city, and they would bring them back for the Lord's purposes. That's how he justified shoplifting."

Smart said he assumed a "fake" demeanor when begging for cash.

"Like if someone gave him money but held back a little bit or gave just a little bit, he'd say, 'God bless you,' and then say, 'Oh, they don't know who they're dealing with. A quarter is all they gave the Lord. They will regret this,'" Smart said. "He would say, 'They're so prideful, so full of themselves,' Just very negative things."

Smart said Mitchell forced her to drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes and marijuana that summer. Later, in California, he made her look at a pornographic magazine. She said Mitchell's repeated explanation for introducing her to such vices was, "We need to sink below all things before we can rise above all things."

Smart described attending a "rave-type party," where Mitchell drank beer and absinthe, then argued with a woman and they were kicked out. Mitchell was too drunk to climb back to camp, so she and Barzee went up alone.

Smart said a man named Daniel Trotta, who had invited them to the party, also had let them stay at his apartment. Mitchell and Trotta discussed religion, but on a "mainstream" level that didn't include polygamy or any mention of Mitchell being a prophet.

But in Mitchell's journal, called "The Book of Immanuel David Isaiah," he compiled his revelations, including one "talking about taking seven wives and then seven times seven wives," Smart said.

On July 24, Mitchell tried and failed to kidnap Smart's cousin as yet another plural wife. Smart said she had unwittingly talked to Mitchell and Barzee about her cousin, who was her age and was also her best friend. She described Mitchell's preparations, which included packing a change of clothes, duct tape and the knife with a serrated blade that Mitchell had put to Smart's throat in June.

She said Mitchell later told her how he was about to climb in a window at the cousin's home when he knocked some knickknacks onto the floor and awoke someone, who turned on lights and began yelling.

Smart said Mitchell had told her that after attempting to live in a plural marriage with an adult woman named Kelly, he had decided his wives needed to be "young, so they were still malleable."

"Ugly, dirty … place" • In October 2002, Mitchell bought bus tickets and the three went to San Diego, where they set up camp in a desolate area above Lakeside.

Smart described it as being like the fire swamp in "The Princess Bride" — "a very ugly, dirty, gross place. ... No color, just brown and gray, very sandy."

She said she got sick on alcohol one night when she drank a beer, then asked for another.

"I was sick of being sober," she testified. She threw up while laying down and woke up with vomit stuck to her face and in her hair, she said.

She said Mitchell again planned to kidnap a girl, and he attended LDS Church services in Lakeside to try and locate a suitable victim, Smart said.

Mitchell told her he picked an LDS Church because the members "have the basic LDS beliefs already."

"He said the LDS Church was the true church, but since the death of the deceased prophet, Ezra Taft Benson, that the mantle had fallen on him," Smart recalled. "That the church was the true church, but everyone had gone astray."

At church, Mitchell was befriended by Virl Kemp, who took him to dinner at his home, where Mitchell spotted a photo of Kemp's teenage stepdaughter. The girl stayed with the Kemps on Wednesdays and every other weekend.

Mitchell set out to kidnap the girl one night in early 2003. But once in Kemp's home, he heard someone snoring who then began to move, so Mitchell fled, Smart said.

A few days later, someone came close to their camp, and Mitchell decided to move farther up the mountain.

Following the move, Mitchell showed Smart a newspaper story with a photograph of her parents holding hands and referred to the TV show "America's Most Wanted." Smart said Mitchell was surprised people hadn't given up searching for her.

In February, they were low on food, and Mitchell went to get some. But instead, he bought beer, stole prescription drugs from a woman, broke into an LDS church and was arrested.

When Mitchell returned to camp a week later, Smart and Barzee were so weak with hunger that they lay in the tent all day and left only to use the bathroom, Smart said.

Soon after, a helicopter hovered close above their camp, and Mitchell decided it was time to move on. Smart said he talked about "big cities" such as Chicago and Philadelphia.

Fearing such a move would reduce her chances of being found, Smart said she decided to have a revelation of her own.

"I told [Mitchell] I felt God had told me ... we should return to Salt Lake City," she said. She added that there were lots of "girls camps" in the mountains, which would make it easy for Mitchell to "plunder" more wives.

"He said he would pray about it, but said it was a good idea," Smart recalled. "He said I was inspired to go back."

Mitchell balked when Smart further suggested that they hitchhike. But again, Smart used Mitchell's own philosophy against him.

"I said I had experienced all these other things. ... I needed to experience hitchhiking before I could rise above it," she said.

Hitchhiking to SLC • Before setting out, they packed their linen robes, dressed in "street clothes" found at another homeless camp, and Mitchell bought Smart sunglasses and a cheap gray wig to wear.

Smart said they hitchhiked in small increments and met a variety of people, including a nudist, during several days of travel.

Their last ride, on March 12, 2003, got them to Utah County, and they rode a bus to Sandy, where they shopped at Walmart to re-supply their Salt Lake foothills camp, Smart said.

But after leaving the store, several police cars pulled up. Mitchell claimed they were traveling preachers and that Smart was his daughter.

But police separated them and began asking Smart her name, age, high school and if she knew her parents were worried about her and missed her.

When Smart gave police the answers Mitchell had told her to say, they handcuffed her and took her to the Sandy Police Department.

"I knew the threats I had been told for nine months," Smart said. "And, at the same time, I thought, 'This is it. I'm done. This is over.' "

At the Police Department, an officer told her she could remove the wig and sunglasses and that her dad would arrive shortly, Smart said.

Soon after, she identified herself as Elizabeth Smart.

Asked Viti, the prosecutor, his voice filled with emotion, "Did there come a time when your dad arrived?"

"Yes," Smart replied.

"How did you feel?"

"I was so happy," Smart said.

That statement — which brought tears to the eyes of one female juror — marked the end of Tuesday's testimony.

Smart will take the witness stand again Wednesday.

shunt@sltrib.com Read frequent updates of Elizabeth Smart's testimony at www.sltrib.com.






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