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SALT LAKE CITY – After more than eight years of waiting, Elizabeth Smart has finally heard the word she's been waiting for: guilty.
A federal jury on Friday convicted street preacher Brian David Mitchell of snatching a then-14-year-old Smart from her bed at knifepoint in the dead of night and forcing sex on her while he held her captive for nine months.
For Smart, 23, the decision closes the door on one horrific chapter of her young life and opens another. She'll soon leave Utah for France to complete a Mormon church mission, then plans to finish a music degree at Brigham Young University.
Mitchell, 57, could spend the final chapter of his life in a federal prison. He'll be held in the Salt Lake County Jail until his May 25 sentencing, which Smart's father noted Friday is also National Missing Children's Day.
Defense attorneys aren't yet certain whether they will file an appeal for a man who loudly sang hymns and Christmas carols in court and never spoke to anyone, including his lawyers.
"As an appeal process we look for issues. We also have to look at whether it's good for him," said Mitchell's federal public defender, Robert Steele. "That's a question in my mind."
Steele said he'll now advocate for an appropriate prison placement for Mitchell, preferably a federal prison hospital. Steele maintains that Mitchell is mentally ill and noted that he also suffered a seizure in court during the trial. The decision ultimately rests with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.
On Friday, Smart smiled as the verdict was read, while a bedraggled, bearded Mitchell sat at the defense table, singing hymns with his hands before his chest, as if in prayer.
"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," Smart said, after she walked arm-in-arm with her mother through a crush of media.
It was a dramatic end to a tale that captured the nation's attention since she disappeared in June 2002: A 14-year-old girl mysteriously taken from her home, the intense search and her eventual discovery walking Salt Lake City's streets with her captors.
"The beginning and the end of this story is attributable to a woman with extraordinary courage and extraordinary determination, and that's Elizabeth Smart," federal prosecutor Carlie Christensen said outside the courthouse.
"She did it with candor and clarity and a truthfulness that I think moved all of us," Christensen said.
Smart described in excruciating detail how she woke up one night to the feel of a cold, jagged knife at her throat and being whisked away by Mitchell to his camp in the foothills near the family's Salt Lake City home.
Within hours of the kidnapping, she testified, she was forced into a polygamous marriage with him. She was tethered to a metal cable and subjected to near-daily rapes while being forced to use alcohol and drugs.
Jurors didn't give their names but in a post-verdict news conference said the sometimes brutal testimony took an emotional toll, especially because they could not talk about the case during the five weeks of trial. So when deliberations began, simply being able to discuss the case provided an emotional release.
The hardest part, one juror said, was Elizabeth Smart's testimony.
"I'm a soft, old man," said the juror identified only as No. 7. "When you hear the things that happened to Elizabeth Smart, you have to be pretty callous to not have it hit you right in the heart."
The five-week trial turned on the question of Mitchell's mental health.
The thinly built, gray-haired Mitchell was routinely removed from the courtroom because of his singing and taken to another room to watch the proceedings on closed-circuit TV.
His lawyers did not dispute that he kidnapped Smart but wanted him to be found not guilty by reason of insanity, which would have sent him to a prison mental hospital.
Prosecutors countered that Mitchell was faking mental illness to avoid a conviction, labeling him a "predatory chameleon."
Smart testified she believed Mitchell was driven by his desire for sex, drugs and alcohol, not by any sincere religious beliefs.
Jurors did not buy the insanity defense, finding him guilty of kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor across state lines for the purposes of illegal sex. The sex charge was based on Mitchell taking her for five of the nine months to California.
Mitchell had told defense attorneys he "expected to be convicted" as part of religious tests and seemed somehow unaffected by the decision, Steele said.
"He takes it in his religious way," Steele said.
Associated Press writer Josh Loftin contributed to this report.
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