SALT LAKE CITY (CN) – The Elizabeth Smart trial resumed Monday after the 10th Circuit rejected the defense’s bid to move the trial out of Utah. As the defense wrapped up opening arguments, Smart took the stand and testified that her alleged kidnapper, Brian David Mitchell, tethered her to trees “like an animal” when she was 14, raped her daily, and forced her to drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes. “I pleaded with him not to touch me, but it didn’t work,” she said.
As the trial got underway, the packed courtroom witnessed the singing for which Mitchell has repeatedly been tossed from courtrooms. U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball warned Mitchell that he would not allow the self-proclaimed prophet to disrupt the proceedings, which began at about 8:39 a.m., by reciting religious hymns.
He removed Mitchell from the courtroom a few minutes later, after the accused kidnapper and rapist continued to sing off-tune. Mitchell watched the trial by closed-circuit TV in a nearby room for the remainder of the day.
Following the removal, defense attorney Parker Douglas declined an opportunity to retrace his opening statements last Thursday, telling jurors, “I’m not going to rehash my remarks from last week. … I know you recall what I said.”
The defense had been interrupted three minutes into opening arguments when the 10th Circuit granted a temporary stay while it considered an effort to move the trial to a different venue. The federal appeals court in Denver denied the motion on Friday and vacated the temporary stay.
Picking up where he left off, Douglas chronologically covered Mitchell’s life and highlighted a family history of mental illness, citing Mitchell’s grandfather’s clinical diagnosis and hospitalization for paranoid schizophrenia and his father’s belief that he, himself, was a religious prophet.
Douglas said his client’s first experience with mental health therapy came when, at age 17, he was caught exposing himself to an 8-year-old girl.
The defense said Mitchell aggressively confronted friends and family about a book on revelation that he wrote in 2000, a situation that frightened his mother “so bad she placed a restraining order against him.”
Douglas also noted that Mitchell believed he should take on 49 wives, and that he “distrusts the government and does not like institution.”
“We’re asking you to determine what was in someone’s mind. … Insanity does not necessarily follow logic,” Douglas told jurors.
He closed his opening argument by saying, “There is very little or no disagreement with what happened. We have general disagreements about why it happened.” Jurors’ job, he said, is not to “ferret out what happened, but why it happened.”
Smart, who returned from a Mormon mission in France to take the stand, said Mitchell told her that he “was called by God” to make her his wife when he kidnapped her from her family’s home in 2002 in what she described as a carefully crafted plan.
She spoke in great detail of how Mitchell locked her with cables to two trees in a makeshift camp in the mountains above her family’s home less than 24 hours after he took her.
During the first few moments of the abduction, Smart said a police car passed the pair while they ascended the mountainside behind her home. Mitchell had her hide behind a bush until it was clear to keep moving.
When they reached a mountain trail above the neighborhood, Smart said, “I told him that if he was just going to rape and kill me, to do it as close to the trailhead so that someone could find my remains.”
They reached the camp, where Mitchell’s wife, Wanda Barzee, was waiting, “three to five hours” later, Smart said.
Smart said she was held by locked cables for six weeks, raped daily and forced to drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes.
“I had been tethered to trees, like an animal,” she said. “My self value had dropped … I felt like I was nothing.”
She said she tried to fight off Mitchell and pleaded with him not to rape her.
“I begged him not to. I did everything that I could to stop him. I pleaded with him to not touch me, but it didn’t work. … A 14-year-old against a grown man doesn’t work out so much,” she said.
She said Mitchell made her drink and smoke because, he said, “in order to rise above all things, I had to sink below all things first.”
Smart’s mother, Lois, and sister, Mary Elizabeth, also each briefly took the stand.
Lois said the family first came into contact with Mitchell in the fall of 2001, when she gave him $5 while she and her six children were school shopping at a mall in downtown Salt Lake City. Mitchell was panhandling, and she offered him odd jobs, including fixing a leak in their roof and raking leaves. Smart testified that from the moment Mitchell saw her in the mall, he began plotting to make her his wife.
The defense briefly cross-examined Lois and had no questions for Mary Katherine. The two sisters shared a room, and Mary Katherine said she witnessed her sister’s abduction.
In a nod to Mitchell’s outbursts, the defense acknowledged that he began singing hymns to drown out co-workers while employed by merchant O.C. Tanner in the early 1990s. Around that time, Mitchell began to call Mormon views “hypocritical,” although he and estranged wife Barzee, who was sentenced to 15 years for the abduction, were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Smart returned to Utah last Wednesday from a church mission in Paris for the trial. She will take the stand again at 8:30 Tuesday for further testimony and cross-examination.