Elizabeth - One year later

Deseret News/June 5, 2003
By Derek Jensen and Pat Reavy

Elizabeth Smart answered the door to her family's Salt Lake City home Wednesday morning much like she might have done last June 4.

Wearing jogging clothes - a white T-shirt and black shorts - she greeted a Deseret News reporter with a shy smile and hardly a word before retreating to the corner of her family's front room, where she had been playing her harp.

Her willowy frame is in the midst of that inevitable transition from adolescence to adulthood, yet there remains an innocence in her face that does not hint at the nine-month kidnapping ordeal that started one year ago today when a knife-wielding kidnapper snatched her away from her bedroom in the middle of the night.

Police and prosecutors say she spent the following nine months in captivity with Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee. The couple reportedly believed Elizabeth was to be the first of seven divinely appointed wives. Elizabeth was tethered to a tree in the hills just 3 1/2 miles from her family's million-dollar home and forced to wear a veil in public. Later, police say, the three traveled to San Diego and lived in a transient camp before returning to Utah and being discovered in Sandy the afternoon of March 12.

Life will never be normal for the Smarts, but in a sense it's slowing down.

"It's like we're fully re-engaged, as much as that can be done," said Elizabeth's father, Ed Smart.

That was evident during Wednesday's visit to the Smart home. The voices of her five siblings echoed through the house, and her father hustled two of them out the door when they were late for school.

After answering the door and disappearing, Elizabeth emerged about one hour later wearing makeup and a blue-and-white striped shirt, her shoulder-length blond hair spilling over her face.

"As you can see, Elizabeth is doing great," her father said.

A year ago today Smart family members were thrust into the national spotlight as they began searching tirelessly for Elizabeth.

"I wish on June 5 I could have had a crystal ball to see that March 12 there was going to be an end to it," Ed Smart said. "It was like the world came to a standstill on June 5."

Ed Smart credits his wife, Lois, with keeping their family together during the nine-month search for their daughter. It was a search that included several police agencies, thousands of volunteers, the media and the extended Smart family. Looking back over the past year, Smart family members stress the overwhelming feeling of gratitude for the many people who helped in Elizabeth's safe return.

"It's been a brutal year with an amazingly miraculous ending," said Elizabeth's uncle, Tom Smart. "I think that the overwhelming feeling is just one of gratitude."

Now that she's again with her family, Elizabeth is settling back into the life of a typical teenager. She has decided to attend East High School in the fall. Her correspondence work with a tutor since her return will allow her to begin her sophomore year with her classmates.

During her family's visit to Washington, D.C., for the signing of the AMBER Alert bill, Elizabeth and her parents made a visit to The Juilliard School in New York, where she hopes to someday continue her harp studies.

Now that Elizabeth is safely home, much of the focus in the coming months will probably turn to her alleged kidnappers. For now, criminal proceedings against Mitchell and Barzee are stalled while they undergo mental-competency evaluations.

"Things are on hold," Salt Lake District Attorney David Yocom said. "We really don't know when the evaluations will be completed."

If one or both are deemed competent, defense attorneys worry that publicity surrounding the case may make it difficult to get a fair trial in Salt Lake City.

"The amount of publicity is always a concern," said Mitchell's public defender, David Biggs. "In this particular case, it remains a concern."

Biggs said his office has compiled media reports about the case and is trying to decide whether to seek a change of venue.

"It's not just the amount of publicity that is the concern, it's the type of publicity," Biggs said. "It's the nature of the publicity. It's whether or not the publicity was across the spectrum - that is to say video, audio and written - and how it was portrayed and done by those in the media responsible for authoring that information."

If the case does go to trial, the Smarts say they'd prefer Elizabeth not take the witness stand.

"Of course we don't want her to take the stand," Ed Smart said. "We don't feel like it will do her any good, but we don't know what's going to happen. What parent, after seeing their daughter go through that, would want her to take the stand?"

The Salt Lake District Attorney's Office is not saying much about the impending trial.

On the surface, the case against Mitchell would appear to be cut and dried, because he was found with Elizabeth.

Mitchell's attorney, however, said his client's arrest in Sandy with Elizabeth in tow is only a "starting point."

"It doesn't answer any of the salient and important questions," Biggs said, declining to elaborate.

Yocom said the state's case is not going to hinge on what Elizabeth saw or heard during her nine-month absence.

"There's other evidence, other than Elizabeth's testimony," Yocom said without going into further detail. "No case is simple or cut and dried. There could always be complications. We just have to anticipate what the defenses will be and meet them as they come up."

But, he said, "We feel we have a strong case."

As prosecutors and police continue to prepare their case against Mitchell and Barzee, authorities are still deciding who will receive the $250,000 reward for Elizabeth's safe return and the $45,000 reward for information identifying the girl's abductor.

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