Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped at age fourteen on June 5, 2002 by Brian David Mitchell from her home in the Federal Heights neighborhood of Salt Lake City, Utah. She was held captive by Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee, on the outskirts of Salt Lake City, and later, in San Diego County, California. Her captivity lasted approximately nine months before she was discovered in Sandy, Utah, approximately 5 miles (8.0 km) from her home.
Smart had been taken from her home at knifepoint by Mitchell, an event which was observed by Smart's younger sister, Mary Katherine, who pretended to be asleep during the abduction. Mitchell, who claimed to be a religious prophet, held Smart at a camp in the woods with Barzee, where he repeatedly raped her. During her captivity, Smart accompanied her captors in public on various occasions and went largely unrecognized by those she came in contact with.
Since her abduction, Smart has gone on to become an advocate for missing persons and victims of sexual assault. Barzee was sentenced to fifteen years in federal prison in 2010 for her role in the kidnapping and abduction. Extensive disputes over Mitchell's competence to stand trial lasted several years before he was deemed mentally capable in 2010, though he was diagnosed by forensic psychologists as having antisocial and narcissistic personality disorders. Mitchell was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2011.
|Kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart|
Smart's missing person flyer distributed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation
Salt Lake City, Utah, and San Diego County, California, U.S.
|Date||June 5, 2002– March 12, 2003|
|Perpetrators||Brian David Mitchell
Smart's main abductor, Brian David Mitchell, was born on October 18, 1953 in Salt Lake City, Utah, the third of six children in a Mormon family. His mother was a teacher and his father a social worker. In order to teach Mitchell about sex, his father reportedly showed his adolescent son explicit photos from a medical journal, and, in order to teach him about independence, would drive Mitchell to unfamiliar parts of Salt Lake City, and drop him off, leaving him to find his way home.
At age sixteen, Mitchell exposed himself to a child, and was sent to a juvenile hall. At nineteen, he married and had two children with Karen Minor, who was three years younger than him. After their divorce, Minor was awarded custody of both children, after which Mitchell temporarily fled with the children to New Hampshire. He resided in New Hampshire for two years, where he joined a Hare Krishna commune. Mitchell had a history of drug and alcohol abuse in his adult life; upon returning to Salt Lake City, he was inspired to seek sobriety by his brother, who had recently returned from a mission. In Salt Lake City, Mitchell had two additional children with his second wife, Debbie, who herself had three children from a previous marriage. Debbie alleged Mitchell was abusive during their marriage, and they divorced in 1984. After their separation, Debbie alleged Mitchell had sexually abused their three-year-old son; the claim could not be medically confirmed, but Mitchell's future visitations with his children were ordered to be supervised by the Division of Child and Family Services. One of Debbie's daughters from her previous marriage would also claim that Mitchell had sexually abused her for four years.
On the day Mitchell and Debbie's divorce was finalized, he married Wanda Elaine Barzee (b. November 6, 1945, in Salt Lake City), a forty-year-old divorcee with six children. Barzee had a troubled relationship with her children; one of her daughters would later refer to her as a "monster," and claimed that as a child, Barzee fed her her pet rabbit for dinner. Together, Mitchell and Barzee were actively involved in the LDS Church, though Mitchell's religious views would become increasingly extreme. Mitchell and Barzee eventually left the church and he began going by the name "Emmanuel," claiming to be a prophet of God who experienced prophetic visions. Barzee began going by the name "God Adorneth," and the two would panhandle and preach in downtown Salt Lake City. Mitchell presented himself in an image akin to Jesus, dressing in white robes and tunics, and growing a beard.
In the early hours of June 5, 2002, Mitchell broke into the home of Edward and Lois Smart in the Federal Heights neighborhood of Salt Lake City, where they lived with their six children. He abducted fourteen-year-old Elizabeth from the bedroom she shared with her nine-year-old sister, Mary Katherine, who was awakened but pretended to be asleep, and later reported the following:
When she thought Elizabeth and the abductor had gone, Mary Katherine started for her parents' bedroom, but narrowly avoided being seen by Mitchell and Elizabeth, who were outside the bedroom of the family's boys. She crept back into her bed, where she hid for an undetermined time – possibly over two hours. Just before 4 a.m., Mary Katherine woke her parents and told them what had happened; thinking she had been dreaming, they did not believe her until they found a screen window that had been cut with a knife.
On June 6, 2002, Ed and Lois went on television and pleaded for the kidnapper to return their daughter.
A massive regional search effort, organized by the Laura Recovery Center, involved up to 2,000 volunteers each day, as well as dogs and planes. Various websites carried flyers that could be printed or circulated via internet. After many days of intensive searching, the community-led search was ended and efforts were directed to other means of finding Elizabeth.
Mary Katherine's observations were of little use, and there was little usable evidence found at the scene such as fingerprints or DNA. A search using bloodhounds was unsuccessful. Police questioned and interviewed hundreds of potential suspects including a 26-year-old who was cleared after being located in a West Virginia hospital. The investigation had the side effect of returning several at-large criminals to prison, but Elizabeth was not found.
The Salt Lake City police considered Richard Ricci a person of interest early into the investigation. Ricci was a handyman with a history of drug abuse who had worked for the Smarts; he had been jailed on an unrelated parole violation prior. Ricci died of a brain hemorrhage in August 2002. (In 2015, Ricci's wife killed herself; her son stated that she never recovered from her husband's death.) Elizabeth's family persistently kept Elizabeth's name in the press, for example providing home videos of her, and created a website about her abduction.
After her kidnapping, Smart was taken by Mitchell into the woods to an encampment outside Salt Lake City, where she was met by Wanda Barzee. According to Smart's testimony, Barzee "eventually just proceeded to wash my feet and told me to change out of my pajamas into a robe type of garment. And when I refused, she said if I didn't, she would have Brian Mitchell come rip my pajamas off. I put the robe on. He came and performed a ceremony, which was to marry me to him. After that, he proceeded to rape me." Mitchell claimed to be an angel and also told Smart that he was a Davidian God who would "emerge in seven years, be stoned by a mob, lie dead in the streets for three days and then rise up and kill the Antichrist." Smart, he insisted, was the first of many virgin brides he planned to kidnap, each of whom would accompany him as he battled the Antichrist.
To keep Smart from escaping, she was shackled to a tree with a metal cable, which allowed her limited mobility outside of the tent she occupied. During her captivity, she was forced to take a new name, and chose Esther, after Esther of the Old Testament. It was later revealed during court testimony that Mitchell repeatedly raped Smart, sometimes multiple times daily, forced her to watch pornographic films, and regularly threatened to kill her. He often forced her to drink alcohol and take drugs to lower her resistance, and both starved and fed her garbage. Smart's abuse was facilitated with the assistance of Barzee, who Smart would later refer to as the "most evil woman" she had ever met.
In September 2002, Mitchell and Barzee left Salt Lake City with Smart, relocating to San Diego County, California, where they held Smart in an encampment in a dry creekbed in Lakeside. Mitchell and Barzee relocated with Smart several times to different encampments in San Diego County, often moving in the middle of the night. On February 12, 2003, Mitchell was arrested in El Cajon for breaking into a church and spent several days in jail over the incident.
Smart accompanied Mitchell and Barzee in public on numerous occasions, but her presence was either obscured or unnoticed via various methods of concealment, which often consisted of her wearing a headscarf and veil over her face. In August 2002, around two months after Smart's kidnapping, Mitchell devised a plan to leave Salt Lake City with Barzee and Smart, possibly to Boston or New York City. To research potential places to relocate, Mitchell and Barzee visited the Old Salt Lake City Public Library with Smart. There, they were noticed by a library patron for their unusual dress, each wearing full-length robes with veils concealing most of their faces. The patron was convinced to call police after looking closely at Smart's eyes. A police detective arrived at the library and confronted Mitchell, Barzee, and Smart; however, he was deterred by Mitchell, who claimed that Smart was his daughter, and that they were unable to remove their veils or garb on the grounds of religious reasons. When questioned by the detective, neither Barzee or Smart spoke, and Mitchell stated their religion prohibited women from speaking in public. Smart would later claim that Barzee signaled her not to move, and gripped her legs under the table. She later recalled the incident: "I felt like hope was walking out the door. I was mad at myself that I didn’t say anything, mad at myself for not taking the chance. So close. I felt terrible that the detective hadn’t pushed harder. He just walked away."
Smart also visited grocery stores, a restaurant, and spent a week in downtown Salt Lake City with Mitchell and Barzee, but went unnoticed. In the fall of 2002, she attended a party with Mitchell and Barzee and was photographed wearing a veil and robe among Mitchell and another party guest.
In October 2002, Smart's sister Mary Katherine suddenly realized that the abductor's voice was that of a man the family knew as Emmanuel, an unemployed man whom the family had hired for a day to work on the roof and rake leaves. The police were skeptical because of the short time "Emmanuel" had worked for the family, the long time that elapsed since then, and the short time Mary Katherine had heard the abductor's voice. However, the family had a sketch artist draw "Emmanuel's" face from their descriptions, and in February this drawing was released to the media; it was shown on Larry King Live and America's Most Wanted. The drawing was recognized by the family Brian David Mitchell, who gave police contemporary photographs of him.
On March 12, 2003 Mitchell was spotted with two women in Sandy, Utah by a couple who had seen Mitchell's photos on the news. The women were Elizabeth Smart – disguised in a gray wig, sunglasses, and veil – and Wanda Ileen Barzee. Smart was recognized by the officers during questioning, and Mitchell and Barzee were arrested.
The court requested that Mitchell undergo a competency evaluation, based on his claims of being a religious prophet. While awaiting the evaluation, Mitchell was incarcerated at the Utah State Hospital. Dr. Stephen Golding, a psychologist hired by the defense, distinguished between zealous belief and delusion, and concluded that Mitchell's beliefs transcended zeal and were in fact delusional. It was in Golding's opinion that Mitchell was not competent to stand trial as a result of his delusions. The court, however, superseded Golding's opinion and found Mitchell to be competent in 2004. Plea negotiations subsequently began between the defense and the prosecution. The defendant was willing to plead guilty to kidnapping and burglary for a 10-15 year sentence on condition that Smart should not testify. The prosecution refused to drop sexual assault charges against Mitchell, and no agreement was reached.
On October 15, 2004, plea negotiations had still not determined an agreement. The defense appealed as late as October 21, asking the prosecution to rethink their position in terms of what they were offering Mitchell. Up until this point the defense did not highlight breakdown in competence as a contributing factor to the deterioration of plea negotiations; they cited the lack of a coming to an agreement as being the result of the sole discretion of their client. The appeal was subsequently rejected.
Dr. Jennifer Skeem, a psychologist who initially stated that Mitchell was competent, interviewed Mitchell again per the defense's request in February 2005. After this interview, Heidi Buchi, Mitchell's attorney, filed a brief stating that Mitchell was no longer competent to stand trial. Mitchell subsequently began to act out in court, while jail staff observed no change in his behavior and thought process. Ultimately, Judge Judy Atherton agreed with the defense, asserting that Mitchell's behavior reflected psychosis. The defendant re-entered Utah State hospital on August 11, 2005 and remained there until 2008. While in the hospital, no staff experienced Mitchell as being paranoid in a pathological sense.
In February 2006, a bill went before the Utah legislature to allow prosecutors to apply for forcible medication on defendants to restore their competence to face trial. Permission to forcibly medicate Wanda Barzee was also sought, relying upon the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Sell v. United States (2003), which permits compulsory medication when the state can demonstrate a compelling interest is served by restoring a person's competence and that medication would not harm the person or prevent him from defending himself. In June 2006, a Utah judge approved the forcible medication of Barzee so that she could stand trial.
On December 18, 2006, Mitchell was again declared unfit to stand trial in the Utah state courts after screaming at a judge during a hearing to "forsake those robes and kneel in the dust."  Doctors had been trying to treat Mitchell without drugs, but prosecutor Kent Morgan said after the scene in court that a request was likely to be made for permission to forcibly administer drugs. On December 12, 2008, it was reported that Mitchell could not legally be forcibly medicated by the State of Utah to attempt to restore his mental competency, also claiming that it is "unnecessary and needlessly harsh," and therefore a violation of the Utah state constitution, to prolong trial proceedings to this length.
The case was eventually transferred to Federal court on October 10, 2008. Issues of competency proved to be the crux of the case, and the court held an evidentiary hearing on Mitchell's competency on October 1, 2009 and November 30 through December 11, 2009. On one occasion during a hearing in October, it was reported that Mitchell burst out singing hymns in court. During one of these hearings, Smart described Mitchell as "smart, articulate, evil, wicked, manipulative, sneaky, slimy, selfish, greedy, not spiritual, not religious, not close to God."
Competency evaluations conducted by Dr. Noel Gardner, Dr. Welner, and Dr. Richart DeMier were presented at the hearing. Dr. Gardner maintained that he believed Mitchell was fully aware of his actions and was attempting to deceive the court. Dr. Michael Welner, the key witness in the case, reviewed 210 sources and 57 separate interviews including Mitchell, his wife Wanda Barzee, his family, and Elizabeth Smart. The Court credited Dr. Welner with introducing significant new evidence into the case in his 206-page report. Welner opined that Mitchell was competent to stand trial, and diagnosed him with non-exclusive pedophilia, antisocial personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, malingering, and alcohol abuse in a controlled environment. Welner believed that Mitchell was highly manipulative and used his religious expression as way to coax people into overlooking his high function and dismissing him as delusional. Dr. DeMier, a clinical psychologist for the defense, on the other hand, believed that Mitchell was mentally ill at the time of the crime, and this greatly impaired his judgment. Mitchell was found competent to stand trial on March 1, 2010.
Wanda Barzee eventually pleaded guilty and was sentenced to concurrent terms of fifteen years in state and federal prison. However, due to the delays and mental evaluations, it took Mitchell's case almost 8 years to come to court.
Mitchell's trial began on November 8, 2010. The defense acknowledged that Mitchell was in fact responsible for the crimes, but contended that he was legally insane at the time of the crime, and should therefore be found not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI). The insanity defense for Mitchell was struck down on December 11, 2010, when the jury found him guilty of kidnapping and transporting a minor across state lines with intent to engage in sexual activity. U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball sentenced Mitchell to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Mitchell is currently serving his sentence at the United States Penitentiary, a high-security federal prison in Tucson, Arizona.
In October 2003, Elizabeth Smart and her parents were interviewed for a special segment of Dateline NBC. The interview, conducted by the Today show's Katie Couric, featured Elizabeth's first interview with any media outlet. Couric questioned Elizabeth's parents about their experiences while Elizabeth was missing, including the Smarts' personal opinions concerning Elizabeth's captors. Couric then interviewed Elizabeth about school and her life following her kidnapping.
In July 2006, legal commentator and television personality Nancy Grace interviewed Elizabeth Smart, purportedly to talk about pending legislation on sex-offender registration, but repeatedly asked her for information about her experience. In response to the questioning, Elizabeth told Grace, "I really am here to support the bill and not to go into what -- you know, what happened to me." When Grace persisted, asking Elizabeth what it was like to see out of a niqab her abductors forced her to wear, Elizabeth stated: "I'm really not going to talk about this at this time ... and to be frankly honest I really don't appreciate you bringing all this up." Grace did not pursue further questioning about the abduction.
The Smart family published a book, Bringing Elizabeth Home (ISBN 978-0385512145). Elizabeth's uncle Tom Smart co-authored a book with Deseret News journalist Lee Benson, titled In Plain Sight: The Startling Truth Behind the Elizabeth Smart Investigation (ISBN 978-1556526213), which criticized the investigation process by the Salt Lake City Police Department, as well as noting the media influences that led to her successful recovery.
The kidnapping was depicted in the 2003 television film The Elizabeth Smart Story, which was directed by Bobby Roth, and based on the book Bringing Elizabeth Home. It starred Amber Marshall as Elizabeth Smart, Dylan Baker and Lindsay Frost as her parents, and Tom Everett as Brian David Mitchell. It was nominated for three Young Artist Awards in 2004. The film first aired on CBS on November 9, 2003, just eight months after Elizabeth was found.