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Mitchell and Barzee Charged

Mitchell and Barzee Charged

Posted - Mar. 18, 2003 at 11:43 a.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Self-proclaimed prophet Brian Mitchell and his wife were charged with aggravated kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault and aggravated burglary Tuesday in the abduction of Elizabeth Smart.

Bail for each defendant was set at $10 million. Mitchell and Barzee each face a single count on each charge, for a total of six counts. They are scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday morning at 9 am. They will not actually appear in court. It will be a closed circuit video arraignment between the Salt Lake County jail and the courthouse. A preliminary hearing and trial were expected sometime this summer.

Authorities say Elizabeth was kidnapped from her bedroom at knifepoint by Mitchell on June 5. Mitchell, 49, and his wife, Wanda Barzee, 57, and Elizabeth were found Wednesday in Sandy, a Salt Lake City suburb. The two were charged jointly, meaning any hearings in the case will deal with both defendants.

Mitchell and Barzee Charged

"We do believe that these defendants, particularly Mitchell, should be prosecuted as a predatory sex offender," said District Attorney David Yocom. "If he ever hits the streets, (he should) carry that label as a sex offender for the rest of his life. We are not dealing with just a religious zealot, we are dealing with a predatory sex offender."

The charging documents claim Mitchell entered the Smart home using a knife to cut a window screen. The teen, dressed in pajamas, was forced at knifepoint to walk four miles up a mountain trail behind the home to a concealed campsite. During the hike and inside the Smart home, Mitchell threatened to harm or kill the Smart family if she resisted, prosecutors said.

"She was under the threat of death," Yocom said.

At some point after the abduction, Barzee told Elizabeth that she knew her husband was going to kidnap her, Yocom said.

Prosecutors say that when they reached the campsite, Barzee tried to remove Elizabeth's pajamas. When the girl resisted, Barzee threatened to have Mitchell forcibly do it.

Mitchell then "raped or attempted to rape her, or commit forcible sexual abuse against her," with Barzee's help, Yocom said. At some point, Elizabeth was restrained with a cable around her foot that was tethered to a tree, he said.

From that night until Oct. 8, the couple held Elizabeth against her will at the mountain campsite with little or no shelter, plumbing, water or food, prosecutors said.

Yocom said it was unclear why Mitchell allegedly picked Elizabeth. He could have seen her during his five hours of handiwork on the Smart home in November 2001 or when Lois Smart, possibly accompanied by her daughter Elizabeth, hired Mitchell as he panhandled outside a downtown mall, Yocom said.

Prosecutors also say that Mitchell and Barzee attempted to kidnap Elizabeth's cousin on July 24. A window was cut with a sharp instrument and the child inside told police that she saw something come through the window. The attempt was foiled when the family stirred and called police.

In October, Mitchell and Barzee took Smart to California where they stayed until March 5.

Aggravated sexual assault is a first-degree felony, with a minimum prison sentence of six years and a maximum of life. Aggravated kidnapping carries a penalty of six years to life in prison. Aggravated burglary is also a first-degree felony, with no minimum and a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Yocom's office asked the media to refrain from asking questions on the sexual assault counts "for reasons that should be obvious."

Assistant U.S. Attorney David Schwendiman said federal charges would come "only if and when it is necessary."

Yocom also said Mitchell wants to represent himself. Mitchell had spoken to attorney Larry Long, who once claimed to represent Mitchell. He had said Mitchell considered Elizabeth's disappearance a "call from God" and that he took her as his second wife. Long suggested that prosecutors should seek a light sentence to encourage kidnappers to keep their captives alive.

Mitchell's father made a similar appeal, arguing that any punishment should be tempered by the girl's survival. "There's a lot of people that kidnap little kids and murder them," said Shirl Mitchell, 83. "He took care of the girl and she came back in good health."

Smart family spokesman Chris Thomas said Mitchell was wrong to believe he had any kind of relationship with the girl.

"Elizabeth was taken against her will at knifepoint, she's a minor, and whatever rationale Mitchell used to believe that she was his wife and loved him is grossly mistaken," Thomas said. "The definition of love is not degradation, humiliation, or robbing someone's life of control and respect."

Mitchell, an excommunicated Mormon, wrote a rambling manifesto last year espousing the virtues of polygamy. The Mormon church has long distanced itself from polygamy and excommunicates those who practice it.

Before Tuesday's charges, no details had been released about any abuse Elizabeth may have suffered while captive. The girl has been interviewed several times by police, but her parents have not asked her for details, Thomas said.

Family members have said repeatedly that Elizabeth was brainwashed during the nine months, and that her loss of free will prevented her from escaping despite several opportunities to do so.

Earlier, Elizabeth's family called on prosecutors to make sure they do not traumatize the girl during questioning about the nine months she spent with her captors.

The family met Monday with the district attorney's office and asked that investigators involve Elizabeth only as much as they need to for a successful prosecution, Smart family spokesman Chris Thomas said.

"They have expressed their concerns for Elizabeth's well-being, and will hold the D.A.'s office accountable for any actions that might victimize her a second time," Thomas said.

Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson said Monday he would name an independent commission to examine police handling of the case to provide "a fair, objective review."

Investigators drew criticism for concentrating on potential suspect Richard Ricci even after Elizabeth's younger sister told authorities in October that Mitchell could be the man that took her sister.

Thomas said the family "hopes that those who made egregious errors will be held accountable and those mistakes will not be repeated."

Tuesday's charges stemmed from about 20,000 pages of materials gathered in the case, Yocom said.

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

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