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In our opinion: Elizabeth Smart's case finds closure at last

Published: Thursday, May 26 2011 12:33 p.m. MDT

Elizabeth Smart

Laura Seitz, Laura Seitz, Deseret News

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Elizabeth Smart, her family and the entire state of Utah could have asked for no greater moment of closure than this: Having the young victim of kidnapping and abuse, now a poised, confident woman who has triumphed over her victim-hood, confront Brian David Mitchell in court and speak to him. That her testimony was followed by U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball handing down a life sentence was a final moment of justice.

As with Smart, the entire state can now breathe a sigh of relief and move on.

Smart's poise and grace, during the trial and sentencing, has rightly garnered admiration among those who followed the case from the moment of her kidnapping nearly nine years ago. In a world too often obsessed with anger and revenge, she showed the value of cultivating an inner peace that seems to have allowed her to leave the past behind and stride confidently into the future.

"I want you to know that I have a wonderful life now," she told the man who held her against her will for nine months, terrorizing and abusing her while much of the nation followed the frantic efforts to find her. "No matter what you do, you will never affect me again."

None of this could have been easy for Smart. The justice system grinds slowly, and it sometimes felt as if the grinder had come to a halt in this case. The Constitution guarantees rights to the accused, and laws are in place to assure that all factors are considered when deciding whether a person is competent to be held accountable for his acts. Mitchell had the right to defend himself, even if attempts to do so often offended the sensibilities of a community that knew he had committed the crimes. In the end, however, the system worked well.

Mitchell will be in federal prison for life, without the possibility of parole. The state of Utah still has a pending case against him. Even if that proceeds, it will seem anticlimactic. The perpetrator never again will be free.

As we said at the end of the trial, this case holds many lessons. Horrible crimes can destroy lives and lead to years of wasted bitterness and hate. But they also can generate heroism and a steely resolve to rebuild what was taken. Smart chose to reclaim herself, rise above the filth thrust upon her and center her life on her faith in her family, her God and goodness.

It also was a testament to the faith and prayers of many who searched for Smart and never gave up hope of finding her alive. The sentencing of her attacker came on National Missing Children's Day. That was a poignant reminder that, while Smart's ordeal and Mitchell's trial are over, nightmares continue for many other children and their families. A community so affected by this crime can be glad it ended well, but it can never afford to let up its guard.

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