Elizabeth Smart kidnapping
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|Kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart|
Smart in June 2012 speaking to local media outlets in Moberly, Missouri
Salt Lake City, Utah and
San Diego, California areas
|Date||June 5, 2002– March 12, 2003|
|Perpetrators||Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee|
Elizabeth Smart is a woman who, at the age of fourteen, was abducted from her bedroom in Salt Lake City, Utah on June 5, 2002. She was rescued by police officers nine months later on March 12, 2003, in Sandy, Utah, about 18 miles from her home, in the captivity of Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Ileen Barzee, who were indicted for her kidnapping, but initially ruled unfit to stand trial. After both defendants were found competent to stand trial, Barzee was convicted in 2009 and Mitchell was convicted in 2010. Mitchell was held in the Salt Lake County Jail following his sentencing on May 25, 2011. On August 31, he was transferred to a federal prison in Arizona to begin serving a life sentence for his crimes. The abduction of Elizabeth and her rescue were widely reported and were the subject of a made-for-television movie and a published book.
Edward Smart and his wife Lois lived in the affluent neighborhood of Federal Heights in Salt Lake City, Utah, with their six children. On the evening of June 4, 2002, the family attended an awards ceremony at Bryant Middle School. After the family returned home and got ready for bed, Ed made sure the doors were all locked, but he did not turn on the alarm. "If the children got up and moved [in the night], it would set the alarm off. And so we just said we're not going to bother with it," Lois later explained.
In the early hours of June 5, Brian David Mitchell broke into the home and came to the bedroom that Elizabeth shared with her 9-year-old sister, Mary Katherine. While Mary Katherine pretended to be asleep, she watched the abduction, and later gave these statements as to what happened:
- A white man about the height of her brother Charles (5 ft 8 in; 172 cm) about 30 or 40 years old, wearing light-colored clothes and a golf hat. (He was actually wearing black, did not have a golf hat, and was 49.)
- He had dark hair, and also dark hair on his arms and on the back of his hands.
- The man threatened Elizabeth with a knife (which Mary Katherine thought was a gun at the time)
- When Elizabeth said "ouch" after stubbing her toe on a chair, Mitchell said something that sounded like: "You better be quiet, and I won't hurt you."
- She heard Elizabeth ask "Why are you doing this?" and though the answer was not clear, Mary Katherine thought the answer might have been "for ransom."
- Mitchell was soft-spoken — even polite, calm, and nicely dressed.
- Although Mitchell spoke to Elizabeth quietly, Mary Katherine thought Mitchell's voice seemed somehow familiar, but she couldn't pinpoint where or when she had heard it.
- She never got a good look at Mitchell's face. This fact was kept a secret by the police during the investigation.
By listening to the creaking floor as Elizabeth and Mitchell walked, Mary Katherine thought she could tell where Mitchell and Elizabeth were. When it seemed safe, Mary Katherine hopped out of bed to tell her parents. But she froze in terror when she nearly ran into Mitchell and Elizabeth as they seemed to be looking into her brothers' bedroom. Fearful that she had been spotted by the abductor, she crept back into her bed. "I thought, you know, be quiet, because if he hears you, he might take you too, and you're the only person who has seen this," Mary Katherine said in a later interview. "I was, like, shaking." She hid for an undetermined amount of time. Investigators later concluded that she may have been hiding over two hours before she felt safe enough to come out.
Just before 4 a.m., Mary Katherine came to her parents' bedroom and woke them up. She told them Elizabeth was gone, but her parents thought she was having a bad dream. Ed went from room to room, and didn't find her. Mary Katherine told him, "You're not going to find her. A man came and took her. He had a knife." Still, the parents found this hard to believe until Lois spotted a screen window downstairs that had been cut with a knife.
Search and investigation
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A massive regional search effort, organized by the Laura Recovery Center, looked for Elizabeth in the days immediately following her abduction. Up to 2,000 volunteers a day were dispatched to the area surrounding her home trying to find any trace of the missing girl. Word spread quickly as an impromptu coalition of websites facilitated the distribution of information about Elizabeth Smart with flyers that could be downloaded for printing or immediately circulated online by email or Internet fax. Volunteers combed the hills near her family's home and extended the search using search dogs and aircraft. After many days of intensive searching, the community-led search was closed by the local volunteers and efforts were directed to other means of finding Elizabeth.
Although police had an eyewitness in Mary Katherine, her report was not very helpful to investigators. Furthermore, there was almost no significant forensic evidence such as clear fingerprints or DNA samples to help identify the abductor, hindering the investigation. A search using bloodhounds was unsuccessful in following Mitchell and Elizabeth's path on foot. Police questioned and interviewed hundreds of potential suspects including one individual, Bret Michael Edmunds, a 26-year-old drifter who was pursued across the country but ultimately was cleared of suspicion in the case after being located in a West Virginia hospital suffering from a drug overdose. One by one, the leads that were pursued often put at-large criminals back in prison, but they did not produce the desired result of finding Elizabeth.
The Salt Lake City police ultimately announced that their prime person of interest in the case was Richard Ricci, a handyman who had worked for the Smarts. Ricci died in jail from a brain hemorrhage a few weeks after he refused to provide a confession to Utah corrections officers. With his death, it seemed that all leads were exhausted. When the actual kidnappers were apprehended nine months after Elizabeth's abduction, Ricci's widow issued a statement expressing relief at Smart's safe return and her husband's innocence. On December 18, 2015, Angela Morse Ricci committed suicide, her son stating she never recovered from her husband's death.
The Smarts and their extended family persistently maintained a presence in the local and national media, in order to keep Elizabeth's name in the press, providing the media with home videos of her as a teenager and as a child, and created a website to serve as a resource center.
After several months, a breakthrough came in October 2002, when Mary Katherine suddenly remembered where she had heard Mitchell's voice, telling her parents, "I think I know who it is: Emmanuel."
The Smarts sought to help unemployed people in the community by paying them for odd jobs or handy work around the property. Mitchell, who called himself "Emmanuel", had been the one who informed many homeless people that the Smarts would hire them and also worked for them himself one day. He worked at the Smarts' home for five hours, helping on the roof and raking leaves.
Mary Katherine now identified "Emmanuel"/Mitchell as the man who had abducted her sister. When this was reported to the police, they had doubts as to its reliability. Mary Katherine had barely heard the suspect's quiet voice and for only a few minutes, and had just awakened from sleep. When it was reported several months later that she thought it was the voice of a man she had only met briefly and more than a year before, the police did not consider it a worthy lead.
Tensions developed as the parents accused the police of not thoroughly following up on this lead. The family used the services of sketch artist Dalene Nielson to draw "Emmanuel's" face from memory. In February, this drawing was released to the media, with the assistance of John Walsh, who revealed it in an appearance on Larry King Live and on his own series, America's Most Wanted. The drawing was recognized by Emmanuel's family, who reported his actual name, Brian David Mitchell, to the police and provided them with contemporary photographs of Mitchell.
On March 12, 2003, just over nine months after the abduction, Mitchell, who was now wanted by police for questioning, was spotted traveling with two people in Sandy, Utah, by an alert biker who had heard of the kidnapping on America's Most Wanted the night before and alerted police. The people were Elizabeth Smart—disguised in a gray wig, sunglasses, and veil — and Wanda Ileen Barzee. Smart was finally recognized by the officers during questioning, and was promptly reunited with her family. Mitchell and Barzee were taken into custody as alleged kidnappers.
Brian David Mitchell was taken into custody, along with his wife Wanda Ileen Barzee, on March 12, 2003. The court requested that Mitchell undergo a competency evaluation. 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. 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 pedophilia, nonexclusive type, 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).
According to Elizabeth Smart's October 1, 2009, US Federal Court testimony, after Smart had gone to bed on June 4, 2002, a man Smart identified as Brian Mitchell had entered her bedroom and had "placed his hand on my chest and then put the knife up to my neck. He told me to get up quietly, and if I didn't then he would kill me and my family. He was whispering, but it was still loud enough it could wake someone. He was dressed in sweats, sweatshirt, stocking cap, tennis shoes." After Smart had been led to Mitchell's camp in the woods, a woman Smart identified as Wanda 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."
It was later revealed during court testimony that Mitchell repeatedly raped Smart, sometimes multiple times daily and forced her to watch pornographic films. He often forced her to drink alcohol to lower her resistance.
The insanity defense was struck down on December 11, 2010, when the jury found Mitchell 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 2016, Barzee's federal imprisonment was terminated and she was transferred to the Utah Department of Corrections to start serving her state prison sentence, which will not expire until 2024.
- June 4, 2002– Smart Family arrives late at the Bryant Middle School awards function; Elizabeth receives awards in physical fitness and academics but does not play her harp as planned. Family returns home and retires to bed.
- June 5, 2002 – Elizabeth is abducted from her bedroom in the early hours of the morning. Mary Katherine, her sister, is a witness to the crime. Elizabeth is taken to a camp in Dry Creek Canyon, the entrance of which is a short distance from the Smart family house, where she is held prisoner.
- June 6, 2002 – Bounty for her rescue is set at $250,000.
- June 7, 2002 – A milkman reports suspicious activities of Bret Michael Edmunds in neighborhood.
- June 9, 2002 – Ed Smart is questioned and polygraphed.
- June 12, 2002 – Manhunt for Bret Michael Edmunds.
- June 14, 2002 – Suspect Richard Ricci is arrested on unrelated charges.
- June 21, 2002 – Bret Michael Edmunds caught at City Hospital in Martinsburg, West Virginia, and questioned the next day.
- June 24, 2002 – Richard Ricci arrest announced.
- July 11, 2002 – Richard Ricci charged with theft in the Smart home. Denies any involvement with Elizabeth's kidnapping.
- July 24, 2002 – Attempted kidnapping at Elizabeth's cousin's house.
- August 2002 - Salt Lake City Detective Richey, based on a tip, confronts Smart and her kidnappers at the City Library. He is deflected from examining Smart's face by a religious argument. Smart later testified, "I felt like hope was walking out the door", as the detective accepted the argument and left.
- August 2002 – Mitchell, Barzee, and Elizabeth leave Dry Creek Canyon and go to Salt Lake City.
- August 27, 2002 – Richard Ricci collapses.
- August 30, 2002 – Richard Ricci dies of brain hemorrhage.
- September 17, 2002 – Police suspend regular briefings with the Smart family.
- September 27, 2002 – Police arrest Mitchell for shoplifting and later release him.
- September 28, 2002 – Barzee and Elizabeth are spotted in the town of Lakeside, California, in San Diego County.
- October 12, 2002 – Mary Katherine remembers the voice of the kidnapper as that of the man they knew as "Emmanuel".
- February 3, 2003 – Smart family releases the sketch of the man known as Emmanuel.
- February 12, 2003 – Mitchell is arrested in El Cajon, California, in San Diego County, for breaking into a church. He was not recognized as the criminal wanted in Utah.
- February 15, 2003 – America's Most Wanted features "Emmanuel" and requests responses.
- February 16, 2003 – Mitchell's family steps forward and identifies him as the man known as "Emmanuel".
- February 17, 2003 – Newly published, more recent photographs of Mitchell made available.
- March 5, 2003 – Mitchell, Barzee, and Elizabeth leave San Diego County, California.
- March 12, 2003 – Elizabeth Smart found alive in the city of Sandy, Utah.
- March 18, 2003 – Mitchell and Barzee charged with aggravated kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault, and aggravated burglary.
- April 30, 2003 – Elizabeth makes her first public appearance after her return.
- October 27, 2003 – Dateline NBC interview with Elizabeth.
- July 26, 2005 – Mitchell declared mentally incompetent to stand trial.
- December 18, 2006 – Mitchell again declared unfit to stand trial.
- April 30, 2008 – Ed Smart appears on Madeline McCann One Year On.
- November 17, 2008 – People magazine features Elizabeth Smart as one of their heroes of the year. In the article Elizabeth says she plans to live in England next year.
- October 2009 – In a court hearing Elizabeth Smart described Mitchell as "smart, articulate, evil, wicked, manipulative, sneaky, slimy, selfish, greedy, not spiritual, not religious, not close to God."
- November 17, 2009 – Wanda Barzee sentenced to 15 years for her role in the kidnapping.
- March 1, 2010 – Mitchell ruled competent to stand trial.
- December 10, 2010 – Mitchell convicted in Elizabeth Smart abduction.
- May 25, 2011 – Brian David Mitchell is sentenced to two life sentences in federal prison for the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart.
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 burqa 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.
Book and film
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.
- List of child abuse cases featuring long-term detention
- List of kidnappings
- Missing white woman syndrome
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- CourtTV site with extensive information on the case from its inception
- Mind Games at the Wayback Machine (archived December 31, 2006) audio report episode of This American Life (April 8, 2005) with a story about why people did not notice Elizabeth Smart on the street. Preserved in the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine.
- The Making of Immanuel December 2003
- 'GOD GIVEN' GIFT: Sketch artist finds her calling June 28, 2004
- "US v. Brian David Mitchell Decision" (PDF). (556 KB)
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- "Brian David Mitchell CST Report" (PDF). (1.56 MB)
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- Romboy, Dennis (25 May 2011). "Mitchell sentenced to life behind bars for kidnapping Elizabeth Smart". Deseret News. Retrieved 30 June 2014.
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- Peralta, Eyder (May 25, 2011). "Former Street Preacher Sentenced To Life In Kidnapping Of Elizabeth Smart". npr.org. Retrieved October 12, 2013.
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- "The Elizabeth Smart Story (2003) - Trailers, Reviews, Synopsis, Showtimes and Cast - AllMovie". Allrovi.com. 2003-11-09. Retrieved 2013-10-09.
- Elizabeth Smart Missing Child Profile at America's Most Wanted
- Brian Mitchell Profile at America's Most Wanted
- NPR's This American Life, episode #286: "MInd Games: The Invisible Girl" – Writer/narrater, Scott Carrier; producer, Ira Glass (segment start: 43:30 minutes in podcast)