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In committing to months, even years, of legal work, Elizabeth Smart never wavered in her insistence on seeing Brian David Mitchell tried and convicted for his horrific crimes against her.

After a federal trial that spanned six weeks, the jury filed into the court to deliver its verdict.

To Elizabeth's left was her mother, Lois, their hands intertwined. At each "guilty," they'd squeeze a little harder.

To her right was Mary Katherine Smart, her only sister, the one she slept, read, ran and played harp with ­— and the one whose sudden flash of memory helped Elizabeth come home.

All three have shown that intelligence, faith and abiding family love afforded a bulwark against the crimes that Elizabeth endured and the suffering of those left behind.

For those and many other reasons, The Salt Lake Tribune has named them Utahns of the Year.

Mary Katherine took the stand in early November, followed by her mother. Elizabeth spent much of three days on the stand, telling in excruciating detail of her kidnapping and the sexual abuse she endured for more than nine months.

As she spoke, it became clear that she had watched and analyzed Mitchell, then used that knowledge to bend him to her will — as he sought, and failed, to do to her. She recalled that after Mitchell raped her the first time, she felt marked, unclean and impure.

But then she started to think about her parents, Ed and Lois, her sister and brothers, and knew they would always love her. That she was a person of worth who would survive and rejoin her family.

Back home, her family kept up its practice of daily prayer.

"We wanted to know where she was," Lois said earlier this week. "I remember the children praying that she'd be warm and have food. We would bless the abductor, that his heart would be softened and that he would bring her back or let her go. That she would come back."

When she did, her entire extended family, and the community that had searched and prayed for her, too, rejoiced.

Even so, there were times when the pain of her memories cut deep, and Lois would say, "You can get through this, Elizabeth. You come from strong women. You can get through this."

And there was another means of redemption. The late LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley gave Elizabeth a blessing, telling her that she was not responsible for anything that had happened to her when she was under Mitchell's control.

With that, Elizabeth re-immersed herself in life. She graduated from high school and went to Brigham Young University before leaving for a church mission in Paris.

Lois credits a long line of family women, on her side and in the extended Smart family, for the trio's strength and faith. She told of how her mother, at age 3, was bitten on the knee by a rattlesnake at her parents' Arizona homestead.

"Here's where my faith comes in," Lois said. "Her father gave her a priesthood blessing, that she could recover from it. She used a crutch for a year, but she did get better. My mother was a pillar of strength and faith in God, and she instilled that in all of her nine children."

In her grandchildren, too.

Mary Katherine, now 18, testified about how, months after Elizabeth's abduction, she remembered the name "Immanuel," used by Mitchell the one day he worked at the Smarts' home. Not long after, Elizabeth was spotted on a street in Sandy and came home at last.

Mary Katherine is a BYU freshman now, majoring in special education after spending her high school years working with children and adults with disabilities. She was quiet earlier this week as she sat close to her mother but let slip a quick wit.

A former teacher and arts specialist, Lois has, with her husband and daughter, worked for national initiatives on preventing child abduction. But she prefers staying home with her children, to be there when they need her.

There have been setbacks over the years. One was the thwarted prosecution in state court, where Mitchell was deemed incompetent to stand trial.

"I think that after so many years, and so many disappointments, it would have been easy to give up," said Diana Hagan, a member of the federal prosecution team. "It was a great feeling to see them in court every step of the way, cheering you on to do what needed to be done."

Best of all, Hagan added, was that the jurors didn't buy the defense claim that Mitchell should be found not guilty by reason of insanity, that he thought he was called by God to kidnap Elizabeth and make her his wife.

Elizabeth Smart "always thought that was a lie," Hagan said. It was, she added, vindication for a young woman blessed with a "subtle and mature mind."

Throughout the years, Elizabeth Smart has worked on behalf of other victims of child abduction and sexual abuse. She collaborated on a pamphlet dedicated to helping other survivors and has indicated she's interested in law school. Hagan said she's delighted that Elizabeth is considering becoming a prosecuting attorney.

So here's to the Smart women, these three and their mothers, grandmothers, aunts, cousins — and, certainly, to the father, grandfathers, uncles, brothers and cousins who worked so hard to bring her home.

On Tuesday, I asked Lois what aspirations she has for her daughters.

"I want them to do exactly what they want to do," she said. "I don't want to put any limits or titles or labels on them. My mother taught me: They can do and be anything they want."

So we all can honor the continuum of grace, courage and heart that lets Elizabeth tell others who've endured trials similar to hers that they can "move on after something terrible happens, and that we can speak out and we will be heard."

Peg McEntee is a Tribune columnist. Reach her at

A second time for Elizabeth Smart

In 13 years of choosing a Utahn of the Year, Tribune editors have never picked the same person twice. Until now. Elizabeth Smart, who is joined this year by her mother and sister, was last year's choice. The momentous nature of her role in Brian David Mitchell's trial convinced us it was the thing to do.