SALT LAKE CITY — More than 8 1/2 years had passed after she was abducted from her bedroom at knifepoint, held hostage and raped for nine months. Through many of those years, she waited as her case became tied up in the legal system.
But Friday, a beaming Elizabeth Smart could finally claim that justice had been served.
"Today is a wonderful day!" Smart proclaimed. "I am so thrilled with the verdict."
After five hours of deliberation Thursday night and Friday morning, a jury found Brian David Mitchell guilty of kidnapping and taking Smart across state lines for the purpose of illegal sexual activity.
An elated Smart stood outside the federal courthouse in downtown Salt Lake City Friday, and despite the rain and hail falling around, beamed a bright smile and spoke with excitement in her voice.
Smart said she wasn't only happy for herself and her family, but for what her verdict could mean to other victims of crime.
"I am so thrilled to stand before the people of America today and give hope to other victims who have not spoken out about what has happened to them," she said while surrounded by her parents, siblings and other family members. "I hope that not only was this an example that justice can be served in America, but that it is possible to move on after something terrible has happened. We can speak out and we will be heard."
After 18 days of testimony, the seven-man five-woman jury announced its verdict at 11:06 a.m. A large smile came across Smart's face when the court clerk read the word "guilty" on the first count and she remained smiling for the rest of the hearing.
Several people teared up in the standing-room-only courtroom. Even some of the jurors admitted afterward that they had tears in their eyes.
Before reading the verdict, U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball said it had been a difficult case with "gritty and graphic" testimony, but thanked jurors for their service, saying the process couldn't work without them.
All 12 of the jurors and one of the alternates met with members of the media following the verdict. They said it was not an easy decision for them. But ultimately, based on how the law for the insanity defense is written, they unanimously believed Mitchell knew the difference between right and wrong and knew that kidnapping Smart was wrong.
When asked which of the more than three dozen witnesses who testified over the past six weeks was most compelling, the jurors named people like Dr. Michael Welner, Dr. Noel Gardner, Dr. Daniel Peterson, FBI Special Agent George Dougherty and U.S. Marshal Dennis Duranto, who testified about Mitchell's habits when he wasn't inside the courtroom. But above all, jurors said it was the compelling testimony from a strong and poised Elizabeth Smart that had some of the biggest impact on them.
After the jury was dismissed, Smart and her family began exchanging hugs with each other and with attorneys. Smart gave particularly big hugs to prosecutors Felice Viti and Diana Hagan. Smart also hugged her former missionary companion, who has sat next to her in the courtroom every day of the trial.
"I admire Elizabeth Smart so much," said Hagan. "I'm so glad it brought closure to her and her family."
"This is a very historic and momentous day in the criminal justice system in the state," said U.S. Attorney for Utah Carlie Christensen, calling the prosecution "an exceptional effort by an extraordinary trial team."
"This story begins and ends with Elizabeth Smart," Christensen said. "She is a remarkable young woman of extraordinary courage and determination. She was willing and able to recall the horrific details of a nine-month captivity and recount those events to a jury with amazing candor and clarity. The importance of her testimony to the successful outcome of this case cannot be overstated."
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