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Prosecutors Say Smart Was Sexually Attacked

According to court papers, the girl was threatened with a knife and assaulted at a campsite just a few miles from her home.

March 19, 2003|Tom Gorman | Times Staff Writer

SALT LAKE CITY — Elizabeth Smart was tethered to a tree, threatened with her life and sexually assaulted after she was kidnapped from her family home last summer, prosecutors said Tuesday after filing multiple felony charges against her alleged abductors.

Brian David Mitchell, 49, and his wife, Wanda Barzee, 57, were accused of aggravated kidnapping, sexual assault and burglary. The couple, who face multiple life sentences if convicted, are scheduled to be arraigned today in state court using a video link with the Salt Lake County Jail. Each is being held on bail of $10 million.

"We're not just dealing with a religious zealot. We're dealing with a sexual predator," Salt Lake County Dist. Atty. David Yocom said of Mitchell, a self-professed prophet who has claimed he took Elizabeth, now 15, to be his wife. Mitchell, a drifter and an excommunicated Mormon, wrote a rambling manifesto last year embracing polygamy.

Elizabeth was found March 12 with Mitchell and Barzee in neighboring Sandy, Utah, dressed similarly to Barzee in a white robe and head veil.

The charges mark the first time that the authorities have said they had evidence that Elizabeth had been sexually attacked by her captors. While photographs of a smiling Elizabeth have appeared on front pages across the country, her parents, Ed and Lois Smart, have not allowed their daughter to speak publicly.

The district attorney announced the charges at a news conference Tuesday. Yocom said that when he met with Elizabeth's parents Tuesday, they told him they will cooperate in the case, including allowing Elizabeth to testify on the assault charges. A forensic psychiatrist has been interviewing the teenager about her nine-month ordeal, Yocom said.

The court papers offered only a few -- but nonetheless telling -- details about what happened to Elizabeth after she was kidnapped June 5. Elizabeth was awakened and taken out of the house at knifepoint, and forced to walk in her pajamas up a four-mile-long mountain trail in the foothills above the family home, prosecutors said.

At the campsite, Elizabeth was assaulted for the first time, according to the court papers. During the assault, Mitchell threatened Elizabeth with a knife and threatened to hurt or kill her family, court papers state. Barzee aided or abetted her husband, prosecutors said.

Mitchell sexually assaulted Elizabeth at least one more time, according to the charges.

The three stayed in makeshift mountain campsites near the Smart family home through Oct. 8 "with little or no shelter, no plumbing, with no water supply, and with little or no food," the court documents state.

Elizabeth, Mitchell and Barzee left Salt Lake City in October, spending time in Nevada and California before returning to Utah. Court papers offer no details of what happened to Elizabeth during that period.

Elizabeth's family said she did not try to escape because she had been brainwashed.

Mitchell and Barzee also are charged with the attempted July 24 break-in -- using a knife to cut a window screen -- at the home of one of Elizabeth's cousins. The commotion awakened the 18-year-old girl and her parents and the person fled, according to court papers. Prosecutors said Mitchell entered Elizabeth's house the same way.

The district attorney said he didn't anticipate any particular difficulties in prosecuting the case against Mitchell and Barzee, which already has produced more than 20,000 pages of documents. The case is strengthened, he said, by myriad sightings of the threesome around Salt Lake City and San Diego, and physical evidence retrieved by detectives at the local campsites, including the cable allegedly used to tether Elizabeth to a tree.

Yocom said there was no legal need to determine Mitchell's motive. He noted, however, that a lawyer retained and dismissed by Mitchell reported that Mitchell wanted to take Elizabeth as his wife. Yocom said prosecutors would attempt to prove the sexual-assault case without subjecting Elizabeth to unnecessary embarrassment.

"We told [the parents] we'd do what we can to look out for Elizabeth's interests," he said.

Yocom dismissed the notion, suggested by Mitchell's father, that authorities should be lenient toward Mitchell because Elizabeth ultimately was returned to her family.

Yocom said the $10-million bail was sought because the state doesn't allow for no-bail custody. "We want to protect the public," he said. "These people are itinerants. If they're out on bail, they could leave the jurisdiction."

The U.S. attorney's office here said it was cooperating with county prosecutors, but that it deferred to them in handling the case because state sentencing laws were sufficiently severe.

Federal charges will be a "backstop" if further prosecution is necessary, said Richard Lambert, chief of the U.S. attorney's criminal division. "But we want to limit the times Elizabeth is interviewed and would have to appear in court," he said.

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