Brian David Mitchell's life sentence is 'beginning of a very beautiful chapter,' Elizabeth Smart says
Laura Seitz, Laura Seitz, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — "Today is the ending of a very long chapter and the beginning of a very beautiful chapter for me," proclaimed a smiling Elizabeth Smart outside the Frank E. Moss federal courthouse Wednesday.
Brian David Mitchell, the man convicted of kidnapping Smart at knifepoint from her bedroom nearly nine years ago, holding her hostage for nine months and subjecting her to horrific abuse, was sentenced to life in federal prison. Under the federal system, there is no parole.
"I am so thrilled with the results that came out today, the life sentence. I couldn't be happier," Smart said.
Mitchell, as he has at every court hearing for the past several years, showed no emotion as the sentence was handed down by U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball. Instead, he sat next to his attorneys, with his eyes closed, his shackled hands in a prayer formation, and sang hymns.
Before the sentence was handed down, both Smart and her father took turns standing in the center of the courtroom with a microphone, looked at Mitchell and directly addressed him.
"I don't have very much say to you. I know exactly what you did, and I know that you know what you did was wrong and you did it with a full knowledge of that," Elizabeth Smart told her kidnapper in a calm, collected, confident and emphatic voice.
"I want you to know that I have a wonderful life now. No matter what you do, you will never affect me again. You took away nine months of my life that can never be returned. But I know that in this life or the next, you will be held responsible for what you have done and I hope you're ready for that when it comes."
Mitchell kept his eyes closed and continued to sing the entire time Smart spoke. But his volume was not as loud as it had been in past court appearances and Smart's words could easily be heard with the microphone she was given.
Before Mitchell was brought into the courtroom, Smart took a deep breath and her mother, Lois Smart, who was sitting next to her, put her hand on her knee and appeared to ask her if she was OK, to which Smart nodded her head as if to say "yes."
But rather than being nervous, Elizabeth Smart said after the hearing that she was actually "excited to have this day finally here," both because of the sentencing and because it was National Missing Children's Day and her case could be used to raise awareness for others.
"There wasn't a feeling of nervousness or fear that could have prevented me from saying what I needed to say," she said.
Mitchell entered the courtroom singing "O Come O Come Emanuel," the first song he sang during his state court proceedings six years ago, marking the beginning of his long trend of singing and being removed from court.
As Mitchell was led out of the courtroom for the final time, Elizabeth Smart said she didn't even remember watching him leave. All she could think was, "Well, Hallelujah. That's one less threat off the streets."
Mitchell had the option of also speaking in his defense, but as he continued to sing, attorney Robert Steele said his client did not intend to address the court.
"I think I can firmly say I heard enough from him during those nine months and I never have to hear anything else from him again," Smart said outside the courtroom when asked about Mitchell's refusal to talk.
Her father, Ed Smart, also addressed Mitchell before sentencing with a similar short, but direct statement.
"Your perversion and exploitation of religion is not a defense. It is disgusting and it is an abuse that anyone should despise," he said while looking directly at Mitchell. "You put Elizabeth through nine months of psychological hell."
Prosecutors were pleased with the sentence. U.S. Attorney for Utah Carlie Christensen called it, "appropriate, just and long overdue for our community, for the Smart family, and of course for Elizabeth."
She said, "It is a measure of justice for Elizabeth. It will certainly ensure that Brian David Mitchell never inflicts such intolerable and unspeakable cruelty on anyone else again."
Ed and Elizabeth Smart thanked all of the prosecutors, former U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman, the two couples that spotted Elizabeth in Sandy in 2003 and called 911 to end her kidnapping, and John Walsh and "America's Most Wanted." The Smarts also expressed disappointment about the recent announcement that the TV show — which was crucial in first identifying Mitchell as a suspect in Elizabeth's disappearance — has been cancelled.
Prosecutors, likewise, thanked Elizabeth Smart and said the case wouldn't have been possible without her.
Assistant U.S. attorney Felice Viti said that in his years as a prosecutor, he has "never met a more poised, dignified or special person than Elizabeth Smart. ... I just thought, 'Good for her. She finally had the opportunity to talk to Brian David Mitchell in a setting that she was empowered.' "
Prosecutor Diana Hagen also praised Smart and her family for their commitment to seeing justice done. Every time the prosecution struggled with how much they should reveal in court publicly about the abuses Smart suffered and how much detail to go into, Elizabeth Smart and her family showed extreme courage to do whatever was needed for a conviction, she said.
Alica Cook is the lone prosecutor to be with both the state and federal cases since day one. She was assigned as part of a four-person prosecution team in Mitchell's state case in March of 2003.
"It's an enormous relief," she said of the federal case coming to an end. "It's one of the most difficult cases I'm sure I will ever work on."
Mitchell's state case, where he was found not competent to stand trial and not eligible for involuntary medication, is still pending. Cook said based on Wednesday's federal life sentence, the state will now evaluate its next step.
One of Mitchell's defense attorneys, Parker Douglas, said the life sentence was not unexpected. Mitchell now has 10 days to appeal his sentence. Douglas said he wasn't sure if Mitchell would appeal or not.
"We haven't spoken much about it and not in any meaningful way," he said.
Kimball's courtroom was packed with onlookers during the sentencing, many of whom had been part of his month-long trial in 2010 and some who were seeing Smart for the first time.
Eight members of the jury that convicted Mitchell were present in the courtroom for Mitchell's sentencing, even though they were not required to be there.
"I just felt like I had to be there for Elizabeth," said Beta, who was juror No. 1 during the trial but didn't want her last name used. "I just wanted to make sure Elizabeth was OK."
Members of the Smart family, including Ed, Lois, Elizabeth's sister Mary Katherine, one of her brothers, her grandmother, an uncle and a former mission companion all sat in the front row of the courtroom.
Members of Mitchell's family were also present.
"I'm happy there's closure for Elizabeth and that all this can be over with," said Mitchell's stepdaughter, Rebecca Woodridge, who visited him in jail Tuesday. She asked him if he wanted to write any statement. He told her he didn't want to. "He said, 'The world isn't ready for what I have to say.'"
She said Mitchell believes he'll never serve a life sentence because the world will either end or he'll get out of prison early. He believes "the Lord will save him and that he will be set free at the hands of the Lord," Woodridge said.
Before sentencing, attorneys argued over several sentencing enhancers. Ultimately, Kimball ruled all enhancements — obstruction of justice, preying on a vulnerable victim, that the abuse was extreme, and that Mitchell was the leader in Smart's kidnapping — all applied in this case.
"This is an unusually heinous and degrading set of facts and circumstances that lasted for nine months," Kimball said. "This is a horrible crime."
It will now be up to the Bureau of Prisons to decide which federal prison will house Mitchell.
Also Wednesday, Ed and Elizabeth Smart noted to reporters it was National Missing Children's Day and briefly brought attention to the cases of Bianca Parker, Holly Lynn Bobo and Jennifer Kesse.
Contributing: Dennis Romboy, Emiley Morgan
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