SALT LAKE CITY — All but one of the jurors chosen to decide the fate of the man accused of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart had heard something about the former street preacher prior to being selected for jury duty.
"He kidnapped Elizabeth Smart."
"He believes he's a religious figure."
"He's a manipulator."
Those are some of the jurors' answers to the question, "What have you heard about Brian David Mitchell that you think is true?"
The question was one of 88 on an exhaustive questionnaire the U.S. District Court had prospective jurors fill out for Mitchell's federal trial.
Jurors generally believe Mitchell is responsible for taking Smart, mainly because he was with her when she was found and was later charged with the crime.
"I guess it's just going on what I've heard," one juror wrote about why she believed Mitchell is responsible. "I haven't heard anything different to the contrary."
Many jurors, however, also admitted they hadn't followed the Smart's story for several years. A couple of jurors weren't living in Utah when she was abducted, and some were in high school themselves. One juror said originally that he did not want to be on such a high-profile case, but later changed his mind.
The jurors admitted most of their opinions of Mitchell were formed by what they had heard or read in the media. Some, however, said they did not always trust what the media told them.
The nine men and five women, including two alternates, were chosen to sit on the jury Thursday after U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball felt satisfied that each would consider only the evidence presented in court and not rely on outside sources when determining guilt or innocence.
Mitchell's attorneys have twice unsuccessfully petitioned the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver for a change of venue. His lawyers do not believe a fair and impartial jury can be seated in Utah because of media-influenced perceptions prospective jurors have of the case.
The Deseret News analyzed the public portions of the 41-page questionnaires to provide a glimpse of the residents who will deliberate over the case. The court withheld or redacted answers containing information considered private, such as anything that would identify the person or that may be considered embarrassing such as being the victim of a crime.
Ten listed their religion as LDS, two Presbyterian, one Catholic and one Greek Orthodox. Several showed a conservative political bent listing to conservative broadcasters Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly. They read publications ranging from Forbes to Field & Stream and the Wasatch Wave to the Wall Street Journal.
Most of the 14 people empaneled, read, heard or saw as many as 10 news reports at the time Smart went missing in June 2002. A couple saw more than 20 reports. Those numbers held for news stories on when she was found. But the jurors paid less attention to the story as time passed and the prosecution of Mitchell began.
Asked what they heard about Smart that they think is true, some jurors wrote:
"She disappeared for a time, comes from a good family and is a poised young lady."
"She has a strong sense of self."
"She plays the harp."
Some of the jurors told attorneys during the selection process that they did not always trust the media.
Two of the women said they didn't read newspapers, and a third said she didn't listen to the news very often.
"I wasn't even sure of (Mitchell's) name," she said.
A male juror said he didn't trust the media, while another man said, "I don't believe everything I see or hear." One noted it was "hard to discern hype from fact."
Two jurors said they moved to Utah within the past two years. One said he had only heard of Smart in passing and had never heard of Mitchell. Another said he had lost track of the case for so many years that he thought Mitchell had already been convicted. Prosecutors called him a "perfect juror" because it was almost the same as having a change of venue.
Mitchell's legal team is expected to raise the insanity defense during the trial, claiming Mitchell is not guilty by reason of insanity. Prospective jurors were asked several questions about mental illness, specifically whether any of them or their family members had ever been under the care of a mental health professional. Six of the 14 said someone in their family was treated for depression or anxiety.
Jurors also were asked, "Do you believe that a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity is ever an appropriate verdict?" Thirteen answered yes and one wrote she wasn't sure.
"I don't understand mental illness that well," one female juror admitted.
One of the male jurors believes there are people incapable of determining right from wrong. But the burden of proof lies with them.
Several jurors said they were concerned about the insanity defense being used as an "easy way out." One female juror said she would want to know what Mitchell acted like before Smart's abduction, while another said he didn't have voices in his head and didn't understand them and would want to hear expert testimony about mental illness before making a decision.
One juror, while saying she is willing to listen to all the evidence and make a decision based on that, acknowledged it would be easier to find a convenience store robber not guilty by reason of insanity than a child sex offender.
Attorneys on both sides told jurors they would have to listen to sometimes graphic testimony about sexual abuse. While every juror said hearing that would be tough, some reacted more strongly than others. Three of them know a family member who was sexually abused.6 comments on this story
When prospective jurors were sworn in prior to questioning, they saw Mitchell sing in the courtroom before he was removed. Later, defense attorneys asked them what they thought about the singing.
Two said it disrupted the court proceedings. One of them, however, said if that is the way Mitchell deals with stress then that's his decision.
One juror said she heard the singing as she was being led into the courtroom, and before she saw Mitchell, she thought the court was opening with a hymn, like in church. She then noted that Mitchell was getting some of the words wrong.