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Former street preacher gets life in Elizabeth Smart case

A former street preacher has been sentenced to life in federal prison for kidnapping Elizabeth Smart.
Image: Elizabeth Smart
Elizabeth Smart makes her statement to the media outside federal court after the verdict in the Brian David Mitchell trial on December 10, 2010 in Salt Lake City, Utah.Douglas Pizac / Getty Images file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Nearly nine years after she was abducted at knifepoint from her bed, Elizabeth Smart watched Wednesday as a federal judge ordered a street preacher to spend the rest of his life in prison for kidnapping and raping her while holding her captive for months.

The sentencing of Brian David Mitchell closed a major legal chapter in the heartbreaking ordeal that stalled for years after Mitchell was declared mentally ill and unfit to stand trial in state court.

"I know that you know what you did is wrong," Smart said to Mitchell, who sang quietly in the courtroom. "You took away nine months of my life that can never be returned."

U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball handed down two life sentences for Mitchell at the hearing in Salt Lake City. A jury earlier unanimously convicted the 57-year-old Mitchell in December of kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor across state lines for sex.

Smart was 14 when she was snatched from the bedroom of her family home in Salt Lake City. She had testified in excruciating detail about waking up in the early hours of June 5, 2002, to the feel of a cold, jagged knife at her throat and being whisked away by Mitchell to his camp in the foothills near the Smart family home.

Within hours of the kidnapping, she testified, she was stripped of her favorite red pajamas, draped in white, religious robes and forced into a polygamous marriage with Mitchell. She was tethered to a metal cable strung between two trees and subjected to near-daily rapes while being forced to use alcohol and drugs.

'Nine months of hell'
Smart was a steady, clear-voiced witness who never wavered with emotion, even as she described the horrific events of what she called her "nine months of hell."

She recalled being forced to live homeless, dress in disguises and stay quiet or lie about her identity if ever approached by strangers or police. Daily, her life and those of her family members were threatened by Mitchell, she has said.

"For nine months, Ms. Smart, a young teenager, was subjected to unusually heinous, cruel, brutal, and degrading treatment at the hands of the defendant, which caused great emotional, physical and psychological pain and humiliation," a federal prosecutor argued in court papers filed in support of a life sentence.

"Those nine months can never be recovered," the document states.

A federal jury convicted Mitchell of kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor across state lines for the purpose of having illegal sex. He faces life in prison for each charge.

Smart recently returned from a Mormon church mission to France.

In interviews with Utah media last week, she said she did not yet know what she would say at the sentencing. Her father, Ed Smart, is also expected to address Mitchell, said Chris Thomas, a spokesman for the family.

The facts of the case have never been in dispute, but defense attorneys have said Mitchell's actions were tainted by mental illness and long-held delusional beliefs that he had been commanded by God to fulfill important prophecies.

Smart, who described her captor as vulgar and self-serving, testified that she believed Mitchell was driven by his desire for sex, drugs and alcohol, not by any sincere religious beliefs.

Defense attorneys maintain Mitchell needs psychiatric attention and have asked the judge to recommend incarceration in a federal prison hospital rather than a standard prison.

Wanda Barzee, Mitchell's estranged wife and a co-defendant in the case, is already serving a 15-year sentence in a federal prison hospital in Texas for her role in the kidnapping.