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9 possible jurors retained in Mitchell trial

By KSL.com | Posted - Nov. 1, 2010 at 4:07 p.m.


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SALT LAKE CITY -- Jury selection got underway Monday morning in the federal case against Brian David Mitchell, who's accused of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart in 2002. As in previous court hearings, Mitchell was removed from the court for singing.

Mitchell, 57, faces federal charges of kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor across state lines -- for allegedly taking Smart to San Diego in the 2002 abduction. If convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in a federal prison.

Mitchell appears in court

Monday's court proceedings began at 9 a.m. in Salt Lake City's U.S. District Court. Mitchell appeared in a jumpsuit but had asked that he be allowed to wear robes similar to those he was wearing when he was arrested nine months after the abduction. Judge Dale Kimball denied that request due to safety concerns.

Mitchell sang in the courtroom as he was escorted in. His eyes were closed, hands held together as in prayer. After about 10 minutes the judge had him removed and put in a separate room where he can watch the proceedings by remote video.

Jury selection begins

Thirty-five of the 220 potential jurors were brought into the court for questioning. Attorneys spent between 10 and 30 minutes on each juror, asking them about their experience with mental illness and how they feel about an insanity defense.

By the end of the first day, they had questioned 17 people and kept nine of them as potential jurors.

Tuesday, more people will be questioned. Once the court has 30 potential jurors, attorneys will pick the 12 that will by seated on the jury.

Mitchell's stepdaughter, who was in the courtroom Monday, says she doesn't think he can get a fair trial in Utah.

"I'm hearing them think a lot about what they should say, to try and say what they think everybody wants them to say so they can get on the jury and then hang him," Rebecca Woodridge said.

She said she plans to be in the courtroom every day of Mitchell's trial.

"He's mentally ill and needs help. I don't think he belongs in prison," Woodridge said.

Jury selection could take at least a week to complete. The trial is scheduled to run every weekday, from approximately 8:30 a.m. until 2 p.m., through Dec. 10.

How the trial will proceed

Mitchell was judged competent to stand trial in federal court earlier this year after an expert witness for the government said he believed Mitchell was "malingering," essentially faking a mental illness to avoid prosecution.

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With prosecutors expected to call as many as 22 witnesses, the trial could take up to six weeks.

Now 22, Elizabeth Smart is expected to return to Utah from France where she is serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to testify against Mitchell.

Attorney Greg Skordas, who is not involved in the Mitchell case but who did represent Elizabeth Smart at one time following her return, told KSL Monday he doesn't expect her to be the first witness called.

"I think at this point the government will go in sequential order. If that's the case, they would probably put her mother on the stand first to talk about how he was introduced to the family, maybe her sister to talk about the alleged abduction, and then Elizabeth," Skordas said.

[CLICK HERE to read the transcript of the interview with Skordas]

Also on the list of 22 possible witnesses is Mitchell's now-estranged wife, Barzee, who also was charged in both state and federal court with crimes related to the kidnapping.

Barzee's competency was restored last year. She pleaded guilty to federal kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor charges in federal court and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

In court papers filed late Friday, defense attorneys list Barzee among the 24 people they plan to call to testify on Mitchell's behalf.

Mitchell's federal public defenders maintain that he is ill and unable to participate in his own defense. In court papers, defense attorneys have said they'll mount an insanity defense.

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Story compiled with contributions from Andrew Adams, Sandra Yi, and The Associated Press.

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