SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) - A homeless street preacher was found guilty on Friday of kidnapping teenager Elizabeth Smart, whose abduction from her bed in the middle of the night and harrowing, nine-month ordeal gripped much of America eight years ago.
A federal court jury in Salt Lake City convicted Brian David Mitchell, 57, on two counts: kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor across state lines to engage in sexual activity.
The self-styled prophet, who had been ejected from court daily for disrupting the trial, loudly sang the hymn, “He Died, the Great Redeemer Died” in the packed courtroom as the verdicts were read.
Smart, now a young woman of 23 who testified in graphic detail about her abduction at knife-point, rape and captivity, exchanged smiles with her mother, Lois, in the front row of the courtroom gallery.
Mitchell’s step-daughter, Rebecca Woodridge, sobbed.
Outside court, Smart said she was “thrilled” with the verdict.
“I hope that not only is this an example that justice can be served in America, but that it is possible to move on after something terrible has happened, and that we can speak out and we will be heard,” Smart said.
Prosecutors told jurors during the six-week trial that Mitchell kidnapped Smart from her Salt Lake City home on June 5, 2002, when she was 14, with the intent of forcing her to live as his young bride.
Defense lawyers did not dispute that Mitchell had abducted Smart, but told the seven-man, five-woman jury that the defendant was under the delusion that he was acting on a commandment from God and should be found not guilty by reason of insanity.
Jurors, who were handed the case on Thursday afternoon by U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball, deliberated for about five hours before reaching verdicts at about 10:30 a.m. on Friday.
Mitchell faces a maximum punishment of life in prison when he is sentenced on May 25.
“The beginning and end of this story is attributable to a woman with extraordinary courage and extraordinary determination, and that woman is Elizabeth Smart,” U.S. Attorney Carlie Christensen said outside the courthouse.
Smart’s terrifying abduction in the middle of the night from the bed she shared with her sister made international headlines and a nine-month search for the missing teen was covered exhaustively on U.S. news programs.
In dramatic testimony, Smart told the court Mitchell woke her up with a knife to her throat and marched her several miles into the foothills above Salt Lake City, where he pronounced her his plural wife and then raped her in a make-shift encampment.
She described her time as Mitchell’s captive as “nine months of hell” in which she was at first kept chained by the ankle to a tree and raped nearly every day, often repeatedly, and forced to look at pornography and drink alcohol.
Smart, who is attending the trial on a break from the two-year Mormon mission she is serving in Paris, showed little emotion during her testimony. But she stormed out of court when a defense witness told jurors she had discussed baby names with her rapist and captor.
Smart was rescued on March 12, 2003, after passersby spotted her walking with Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee, on a street in the Salt Lake City suburb of Sandy.
Barzee pleaded guilty in November 2009 to conspiracy to commit aggravated kidnapping and is serving a 15-year prison term. She cooperated with prosecutors in the case.
Reporting by James Nelson; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Greg McCune and Peter Bohan