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Jurors say testimony about Elizabeth Smart 'tore at our guts'

Published: Saturday, Dec. 11 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

Courtroom sketch shows the jury in the Brian David Mitchell trial back to court with its verdict Friday in Salt Lake City.

Scott Snow

SALT LAKE CITY — Nine men and five women sat in silence for 18 days listening to graphic details about Brian David Mitchell's insatiable appetite for sex, drugs and alcohol.

They sat intently as dueling psychologists dissected his mental state the night he stole Elizabeth Smart from her bedroom at knifepoint, held her captive for nine months and repeatedly raped her. They heard impassioned arguments from defense attorneys and prosecutors about what should become of the bearded man who called himself Immanuel.

Hearing all that, one juror said, "tore at our guts."

And they couldn't say a word about it, to anyone.

Until U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball placed Mitchell's fate in their hands, jurors could only talk through the sea of evidence in their own minds. "It was easy for us to go home and cry a lot," a juror said.

But when seven men and five women (the two alternates are excluded from deliberations) retired to the jury room, they were able to let out the thoughts and emotions they had pent up and compare them with their peers. The jury discussed, debated and questioned for five hours before finding Mitchell guilty Friday of kidnapping and transporting a minor across state lines.

Mitchell's defense team failed to convince the jury that Mitchell suffered from mental illness, that he was a man whose religious beliefs were so devout that he couldn't refuse what he professed to be God's will.

"We as a group made sure that everybody had their say and in the end all of us were comfortable with the decision," said Juror 7, the foreman.

For Juror 12, it came down to a psychiatrist's simple description of Mitchell: He's a pedophile.

"The question is, did he know right from wrong," the juror said. "I think compelling evidence throughout the trial was that he did know right from wrong."

In an unusual event, 13 of the 14 jurors agreed to talk to reporters in a courthouse news conference a couple hours after the verdict. Juror 13 left because his mother died during the trial. Each of them agreed to answer questions provided they were only identified by their assigned juror number during the trial. Several also talked to reporters outside the courthouse.

Jurors shared a poignant moment with Mitchell's defense team, which was seated in the back of the room during the 45-minute question-and-answer session. "Against overwhelming odds, they tried their darndest," one juror said. Jurors praised lead attorney Robert Steele for his professionalism, honesty and thoughtful arguments.

Steele stood up and said, "You're magnificent and you need to know that and it was an honor." The jurors applauded him, several even stood up.

The jury comprised a diverse group of Utahns. On a questionnaire prior to the trial, 10 listed their religion as LDS, including two non-practicing; two Presbyterian; one Catholic; and one Greek Orthodox. Several showed a conservative political bent listing commentators Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly among their favorites. They read publications ranging from Forbes to Field & Stream and the Wasatch Wave to the Wall Street Journal.

All but one had read, heard or seen news reports at the time Smart went missing in June 2002.

Several jurors said it was good to bring closure to the Smart family.

"I'll go home and cry for the Smart family. This time I'll cry a little bit different than we did during the testimony. It was pretty wrenching. I feel like a burden has been lifted because we followed the (jury) instructions that we were given and had an opportunity to be able to help justice be served," the jury foreman said.

Jurors said they took their charge seriously and kept an open mind throughout the trial. They found defense arguments regarding Mitchell's insanity defense compelling and said they carefully considered them.

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