Preacher guilty of kidnap rape

A HOMELESS Mormon preacher has been found guilty of the kidnap of an American teenager in a case which transfixed middle America.

• Brian David Mitchell was found guilty of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart her when she was 14 years old in June 2002. Photograph: AP

Elizabeth Smart, now 23, was just 14 years old at the time of her abduction eight years ago.

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A jury in a federal court took five hours of deliberation before convicting Brian David Mitchell of snatching Smart from her bed at knifepoint in the dead of night and repeatedly raping her while he held her captive for nine months.

Smart smiled as the verdict was read, while a bedraggled, bearded Mitchell sat at the defence table, singing hymns with his hands held before his chest, as if in prayer.

"I hope that not only is this an example that justice can be served in America, but that it is possible to move on after something terrible has happened," Smart said, after she walked with her mother through the media pack.

It was a dramatic end to a tale that captured America's attention after Smart disappeared in June 2002 - a young teenage girl mysteriously taken from her home, leading to an intense search and her eventual discovery walking Salt Lake City's streets with her captor and an accomplice.

Smart flew back from a Mormon mission in Paris to take the stand and recount her "nine months of hell".

"The beginning and the end of this story is attributable to a woman with extraordinary courage and extraordinary determination, and that's Elizabeth Smart," federal prosecutor Carlie Christensen said outside the courthouse.

"She did it with candour and clarity and a truthfulness that I think moved all of us," she said.

Smart described in horrific detail how she woke up one night to feel a cold, jagged knife at her throat and was whisked away by Mitchell to his camp in foothills near the family's Salt Lake City home.

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Within hours of the kidnapping, she testified that she was forced into a polygamous marriage with him. She was tethered to a metal cable and subjected to near-daily rapes while being forced to use alcohol and drugs.

The five-week trial turned on the question of Mitchell's mental health.

The thinly built, grey-haired Mitchell was routinely removed from the courtroom after loudly singing hymns and carols and taken to another room to watch the proceedings on closed-circuit TV.

He kept his eyes closed in court and never spoke to anyone, including his lawyers. His lawyers did not dispute that he kidnapped Smart but said he should be found not guilty by reason of insanity.Such a verdict would have sent him to a prison mental hospital.

Prosecutors countered that Mitchell was faking mental illness to avoid a conviction, labelling him a "predatory chameleon".

Smart testified that she believed Mitchell was driven by his desire for sex, drugs and alcohol, not by any sincere religious beliefs.

Jurors did not accept the insanity defence, finding him guilty of kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor across state lines for the purposes of illegal sex. That charge was based on Mitchell taking her for five of the nine months to California.

As the verdicts were read, the shackled Mitchell sat singing about Jesus Christ on the cross.

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On hearing the verdict, Smart turned to her mother and both of them smiled. Elizabeth Smart later hugged prosecutors.

"It's real," her father Ed Smart said on his way out of the packed courtroom, giving a thumbs-up.

The comment echoed what he had told a crowd gathered around a church in March 2003, confirming that his daughter had been found.

Smart and her family had hoped for the guilty verdict and for a long prison sentence for Mitchell.

Mitchell could face up to life in prison when he is sentenced on 25 May next year.

However, a judge could also impose an unspecified lesser sentence, according to prosecutors.

To the chagrin of the family, the case had been delayed for years after Mitchell was declared mentally incompetent to stand trial in state court and a judge refused to order involuntary medication.

Federal prosecutors later stepped in and took the case to trial.

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Christensen, the US attorney, said one of the biggest challenges of the case was the six years between the time of the kidnapping and the time it took the case to come into the federal justice system.

A parade of experts took the witness stand to say that Mitchell had an array of diagnoses, from a rare delusional disorder and schizophrenia to paedophilia, antisocial personality disorder and narcissism.

Mitchell's former stepdaughter told reporters that she was shocked that jurors didn't see that her stepfather was mentally ill.

"He honestly believes God tells him to do these things," Rebecca Woodridge said.

Mitchell had told defence attorneys he "expected to be convicted" as part of religious tests and seemed somehow unaffected by the decision, attorney Robert Steele said.

"He takes it in his religious way," he said.

Steele said they did not yet know whether they would file an appeal in future. He said that decision would be made after sentencing.

For the Smart family, the case was the end of an ordeal. Elizabeth Smart said she plans to return to Paris.

Asked to describe the family's emotions, her mother Lois said one word came to mind: "victorious".

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It was the same word that her daughter had used on the day she had returned from captivity. "I think this is an exceptionally victorious day," Elizabeth's mother declared on the courtroom steps.