Elizabeth Smart remembers not being able to make out the threat, only the feel of a cold knife at her neck.
As the then-14-year-old lay in bed alongside her baby sister, the man repeated: “Don’t make a sound. Get out of bed and come with me, or I will kill you and your family.” She was his hostage, he told her.
“I was shocked. I thought I was having a nightmare. It was just indescribable fear,” Smart, now 23, told jurors Monday on the first day of testimony in the trial of Brian David Mitchell, the man accused of kidnapping her in June 2002.
That night, they fled up the hills above her home, with Smart in her red pyjamas and tennis shoes, and the knife to her back. Her younger sister – a baby blanket wrapped around her head and neck – rushed to their mother, telling of the kidnapping. “It was utter terror,” their mother, Lois Smart, testified earlier Monday. “It was the worst feeling, knowing that I didn’t know where my child was. I was helpless.”
Nine months later, motorists spotted Elizabeth Smart walking in a Salt Lake City suburb with Mitchell. His attorneys did not dispute the facts of the abduction. But during opening statements, they said the prosecution’s allegation that he was a calculating person who planned the kidnapping was wrong.
Known as a homeless street preacher named “Immanuel,” Mitchell was influenced by a worsening mental illness and religious beliefs that made him think he was doing what God wanted, his attorneys said.
Mitchell, who has a long greying beard to the middle of his chest and hair to the middle of his back, was again removed from the courtroom Monday for singing hymns, so he’s watching and listening from a holding cell.
Smart’s mother testified that she and her children ran into Mitchell downtown and that she offered him a job doing handyman work at the family’s home. One of her sons encouraged her to give him money, she said.
“He looked like a clean-cut, well-kept man that was down on his luck,” she said. “I gave him $5.” Later, the family hired Mitchell to help fix a leaky roof, Lois Smart said. It was the only job he did for the family. “I do remember having a conversation with him, hoping that he would do more work. He seemed fine,” she said.
Elizabeth Smart described how Mitchell came into her bedroom. She had left a kitchen window open because her mother had burned potatoes for dinner. “I remember him saying that I have a knife to your neck, don’t make a sound, get out of bed and come with me or I will kill you and your family,” she said. Smart said she got up and he grabbed her arm, and took her into a closet. He stopped her when she reached for slippers and told her to wear tennis shoes.
After leaving the house, Smart said, they hiked three to five hours up a hill to a campsite where Mitchell’s now-estranged wife, Wanda Eileen Barzee, took her in a tent, sat her down on a bucket and washed her feet. Barzee also told her to take off her pyjamas and underwear and put on a robe or “she would have the defendant come in and rip them off,” she said.
Smart said Mitchell entered the tent wearing a similar robe and married them by pulling a sentence from the traditional Mormon marriage ceremony, called a sealing. “He said, ‘What I seal on this earth will be sealed to me in the hereafter and I take you to be my wife,'” she said, adding that she screamed and he threatened to put duct tape across her mouth.
“He proceeded to fight me to the ground and force the robes up,” Smart said quietly, pausing, “where he raped me.” “I begged him not to. I did everything I could to stop him. I pleaded with him not to touch me, but it didn’t work.” Mitchell chained her to a table, making it impossible for her to flee, she said.
Lois Smart said she was awakened by daughter Mary Katherine, who was 9 at the time and slept with Elizabeth. With the baby blanket wrapped around her head, she looked like “a scared rabbit,” her mother said. “She said a man has taken Elizabeth with a gun and that we won’t find her. He took her either for ransom or hostage,” Lois Smart recalled Mary Katherine, now 18, saying.
Lois Smart said she went to the kitchen and immediately noticed the window was open and the screen was cut in a U-shape. “My heart sank,” she said. Then, she yelled to her husband Ed to call police. Elizabeth Smart is serving on a French mission trip for the Mormon church but plans to resume her music studies at Brigham Young University next year.
Mitchell, 57, faces life in prison if he is convicted of kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor.