SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) - Elizabeth Smart told a jury on Tuesday that a police detective questioned her at a library during her nine-month captivity -- and that his failure to identify her “felt like hope walking out the door.”
Smart, now 23, testified for the second day in the trial of Brian David Mitchell, 57. The homeless street preacher is accused of abducting her at knifepoint in June 2002 and holding her captive for nine months, often concealed behind long robes and a veil.
Mitchell is charged with kidnapping Smart, then 14, from her Salt Lake City home with the intent of forcing her to live as his young bride. His estranged wife, Wanda Barzee, 64, has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for her role in the abduction and has cooperated in Mitchell’s prosecution.
Smart said her best chance of escaping from Mitchell and Barzee came several months after her abduction when the couple took her to a Salt Lake City library to look at maps of places where they might want to take her.
While Mitchell was in the restroom, Smart said, a Salt Lake City homicide detective approached her, saying he was “looking for Elizabeth Smart,” and asked her to remove her veil.
Smart said Barzee signaled her not to move and then Mitchell returned from the restroom. Mitchell told the detective that the veil was part of their religion and could not be removed. Ultimately, Smart said, the detective was convinced and left the library.
“I felt like hope was walking out the door,” Smart told the court. “I was mad at myself that I didn’t say anything, mad at myself for not taking the chance. So close.
“I felt terrible that the detective hadn’t pushed harder,” she said. “He just walked away.”
Smart was not found until March 2003, nine months after her abduction, when passersby spotted her walking down a street in Sandy, Utah.
During her first day of testimony on Monday, Smart recalled Mitchell pulling her out of the bed she shared with her younger sister, Mary Katherine, taking her into an encampment in the woods and raping her.
She has also described being forced to drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes and repeatedly told by Mitchell that she and her family would be killed if she tried to escape. She said she heard searchers call her name in the days after her abduction, but was warned by Mitchell not to respond.
Mitchell’s trial, briefly halted last week, resumed on Monday in Salt Lake City after the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a defense request to move the proceedings out of Utah due to pretrial publicity.
Smart has been serving a religious mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in France, but has taken leave so she could testify.
Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Jonathan Oatis
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