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Petition Filed to Open Hearings for Smart Kidnapping Suspects

Petition Filed to Open Hearings for Smart Kidnapping Suspects

Posted - Dec. 16, 2003 at 7:00 a.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A petition has been filed to open to the public competency hearings for the couple charged with kidnapping Elizabeth Smart.

An attorney representing the Deseret Morning News, KSL-TV and the Utah Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists filed the petition on Monday.

"The public interest in this case is obviously substantial. It is important that the proceedings be open and public to the maximum extent so that the press can be there to observe what happens and report it to the public," said Jeffrey Hunt, who represents the media organizations. "Public access promotes accountability, as well as confidence, in the judicial process and the results of that process."

Third District Judge Judith Atherton granted a request last week by defense attorneys to close a mental competency hearing for Wanda Barzee. A similar request for a closed hearing was granted for Brian David Mitchell.

Barzee, 57, and Mitchell, 50, have been charged with aggravated kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault and aggravated burglary in Elizabeth's June 5, 2002, abduction.

Barzee's competency hearing is scheduled for Jan. 9 and Mitchell's for Jan. 27. A court date had not been set to hear the motion filed Monday.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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