9 possible jurors retained in Smart kidnap trial

AP News
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Posted: Nov 01, 2010 11:29 PM
9 possible jurors retained in Smart kidnap trial

Nearly every Utah juror questioned on the first day of the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping trial said they knew about the case and believed the man charged was likely responsible.

Jury selection began Monday in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City for the trial of Brian David Mitchell on charges of kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor. If convicted, the 57-year-old Mitchell could spend the rest of his life in jail.

The trial begins more than eight years after Smart was taken from her home at age 14. It is expected to last at least five weeks.

The court is trying to winnow a pool of 220 potential jurors to 30 before impaneling a jury of 12, plus alternates.

Of the 17 potential jurors questioned Monday, all said they had seen media coverage of the case and could recite its various details _ from Smart's 2002 knifepoint abduction, to alleged sexual abuses she suffered during nine months of captivity, to her recovery after being found with Mitchell in 2003.

Asked by defense attorneys what they believed was "true" about the case, jurors described Smart as being "taken" or "stolen" from her parents. One woman said she thought Mitchell "believed he was doing God's will" when he took Smart and made her his polygamous wife.

Defense attorneys argued the answers were proof jurors had predetermined Mitchell's guilt and asked that each of the 17 be dismissed.

By day's end, Judge Dale Kimball had retained nine potential jurors _ five men and four women _ and dismissed eight. The selection process will resume Tuesday.

Mitchell watched the proceedings on video from a holding cell in the Salt Lake City federal courthouse after Kimball ordered him removed from the court for singing hymns.

Citing security concerns, Kimball also rejected Mitchell's request to don long white robes during his trial. The former street preacher was wearing the robes when he was arrested while walking a suburban Salt Lake City street with Smart in March 2003.

Federal prosecutors moved to take over the case in 2008 after a parallel state court case stalled over questions about Mitchell's mental health.

Kimball decided earlier this year that Mitchell was competent to face trial. Mitchell had been diagnosed with a delusional disorder and was twice deemed incompetent for trial in state court.

Defense attorneys maintain Mitchell is unable to participate in his defense. In court papers, attorneys have said they'll mount an insanity defense, claiming Mitchell was so impaired in 2002 that he can't be held legally responsible.

On Monday, some potential jurors said they would be unable to render a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.

"I think they know what they've done," one woman said. "I think that's an excuse for them so that they can do something and get by with it by saying they are insane."

Others said they would have no difficulty with such a verdict if it was supported by evidence or testimony from psychologists or other medical experts.

Outside the courthouse Monday, Mitchell's former stepdaughter said she doesn't believe an impartial jury can be seated.

"Not in Utah, no way," said Rebecca Woodridge, who visits Mitchell frequently at the Salt Lake County Jail. "I'm hearing (jurors) thinking a lot about what they should say so they can get on the jury and hang him."

Woodridge wouldn't say if she thinks Mitchell is guilty.

"I think he is mentally ill and needs a lot of help," she said.