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Judge: Suspect in Elizabeth Smart case can get fair trial

The street preacher charged with kidnapping Elizabeth Smart can get a fair trial in Utah, a federal judge decided.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The street preacher charged with kidnapping Elizabeth Smart can get a fair trial in Utah, a federal judge decided.

U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball ruled Thursday plenty of impartial jurors are available for the trial of Brian David Mitchell, based on Kimball's review of questionnaires filled out by hundreds of prospects. The judge earlier denied a motion for a change of venue but said he would reconsider after studying responses to the 41-page questionnaire.

The trial is set to start Nov. 1 in Salt Lake City.

Mitchell's attorneys had claimed the trial should be moved to another state because of the intense news coverage of the 2002 abduction.

Kimball said some jurors appear to harbor prejudice, but "many more jurors than are necessary to seat a jury appear to be undecided or open-mined."

Mitchell, 56, and his wife, Wanda Eileen Barzee, 64, were charged with abducting the then-14-year-old Smart on June 5, 2002, from her Salt Lake City home. They were arrested in March 2003 while walking along a street with the girl in the Salt Lake City suburb of Sandy.

Barzee pleaded guilty last November to kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor. She was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison and could testify against Mitchell.

Mitchell has been found competent to stand trial. But his attorneys will claim at trial that he was insane at the time of the abduction. Investigators and a manifesto written by Mitchell said he was seeking to take additional wives. He's accused of raping Smart repeatedly over nine months while holding her captive as he drifted around, wintering at a southern California homeless camp.

The trio was returning from a San Diego County homeless camp when Utah police captured them.

The juror questionnaire was sent to about 600 prospects earlier this month. Court papers say roughly 500 individuals filled out the queries. After hardship exclusions, clerks winnowed the pool to 330.

Kimball said his review of those responses found no "undue amount of animus" toward Mitchell.

"The majority of responses were measured and thoughtful" and expressed no firm opinion about Mitchell's guilt or innocence or a likely insanity defense, he said.

A coalition of news media organizations including The Salt Lake Tribune has filed a motion requesting copies of the blank and completed questionnaires without identifying information.

Defense lawyers have no objection to immediate release of the blank questionnaire, but prosecutors object to providing that or the completed forms until after the trial, according to the motion.