Insanity defense planned in Smart case

Associated Press / March 13, 2010

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SALT LAKE CITY — On the seventh anniversary of Elizabeth Smart’s return from her kidnapping ordeal, a judge set a trial date yesterday for the man charged in the case.

US District Judge Dale Kimball ordered defendant Brian David Mitchell, 56, to stand trial beginning Nov. 1 on federal charges of kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor across state lines.

If convicted, Mitchell could spend the rest of his life in a federal prison.

Robert Steele, Mitchell’s federal public defender, said he plans an insanity defense. Steele contends Mitchell is incompetent and unable to participate in his own defense.

“I think it’s a mental health case; I always have,’’ Steele said after yesterday’s hearing.

Kimball, however, ruled last week that evidence from a 10-day hearing last year showed Mitchell has a sufficient rational and factual understanding of the case and the capacity to assist his attorneys.

Steele also said he plans to seek a change of venue for the case, saying the trial could be moved to another court within the jurisdiction of the Denver-based US Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, which includes Oklahoma, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, and New Mexico.

“The notion is, if a community is invested in a case, perhaps it needs to be moved somewhere else,’’ he said.

Smart’s father, Ed Smart, scoffed at the change of venue idea. “I guess they’ll do whatever they have to do,’’ he said.

Smart was 14 when she was kidnapped at knifepoint in 2002 from her Salt Lake City home.

She was recovered nine months later on March 12, 2003,after being spotted walking a suburban Salt Lake City street with Mitchell and his now-estranged wife, Wanda Eileen Barzee.

Now, 22, and serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Paris, Smart has testified that she was forced into a spiritual marriage with Mitchell and said the former street preacher raped her daily during her captivity.

It is unclear if she will testify during the trial, Ed Smart said.

Barzee, 64, has pleaded guilty to federal charges of kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor across state lines.