Brian Mitchell’s attorney claims Elizabeth Smart wasn’t very traumatized

Brian David Mitchell is going to be sentenced soon for kidnapping fourteen-year-old Elizabeth Smart, holding her captive for nine months, starving her, forcing her to take alcohol and drugs, and raping her repeatedly. One of the aggravating factors put forth by the prosecution is that she suffered “extreme psychological injury.” Well, Mitchell’s defense attorney is saying Elizabeth DIDN’T suffer extreme psychological injury from what he calls Mitchell’s “extreme conduct.” He points out her statements that the kidnapping didn’t destroy her life and her future, her composure while on the witness stand, and the fact that she’s a well-functioning, stable adult who’s completing a college degree.

This is ridiculous. Elizabeth appears to have admirable courage and fortitude and has certainly coped with her situation much better than most people would, but NO ONE can go through what she went through without being very traumatized. The attorney is grasping at straws — probably because straws are all he has to grasp at. There’s not much to say to mitigate Mitchell’s crimes. But it’s still really not classy to try to use Elizabeth’s strength as an excuse to give Mitchell a light sentence.

The attorney also argues that the judge ought to take Mitchell’s (not great) physical health and his (very poor) mental health as a factor in sentencing. I can see more sense in that. But let’s face it. The guy is 57 years old now. Even if he doesn’t actually get a life sentence, he will die in prison. And he deserves it.

Some of the articles suggest that Mitchell’s lawyer is only trying to make sure Mitchell will not be able to appeal on the grounds of ineffective counsel. It is the duty of a defense attorney to pursue every possible means to help their client, but that doesn’t mean we the public have to like it.

Salt Lake Tribune
Salt Lake Tribune 2
United Press International
The Deseret News (a long one)
Fox 13

Guilty pleas in Jaycee Dugard kidnapping

Both Phillip and Nancy Garrido have pleaded guilty in Jaycee Dugard’s abduction. Neither have been sentenced yet, but Phillip faces up to 431 years in prison and Nancy, 36 years to life. They will most certainly die in prison — probably in solitary, because I’m sure the other inmates would turn on them.

I’m glad about this; it seems like the best thing for all parties involved. Jaycee and her children (now aged 13 and 16) won’t have to testify. And it wasn’t a long drawn out case; it moved about as fast as you can expect in our sluggish criminal justice system. Whereas in the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping, it was six years before Wanda Barzee was sentenced and seven before Brian David Mitchell was sentenced. Of course, a lot of the reason for that was that Barzee and Mitchell were both psychotic, but it’s still rather harrowing for Elizabeth and her family, hanging in limbo all that time.

This article says Jaycee is writing her memoirs. I would totally read them when they come out. I have read the memoirs of Belgian kidnap victim Sabine Dardenne, but have yet to get around to Natascha Kampusch’s 3,096 Days.

Brian David Mitchell convicted

As I’m sure everyone knows by now, Brian David Mitchell has been convicted of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart and will face a sentence of up to life in prison. He won’t be sentenced till May. My guess is that he’ll spend most of his time in solitary to protect him from the other prisoners.

Elizabeth is, understandably, very happy with the verdict. She may be even happier that the case, after, what, eight years, is finally, finally finished.

Brian David Mitchell FINALLY ruled competent to stand trial

A mere seven years after his arrest, Brian David Mitchell has been ruled competent to stand trial for kidnapping Elizabeth Smart. His defense attorney expects the trial will take place last year. Experts’ opinion of Mitchell’s mental status has been divided and everyone concedes that there’s a lot wrong with him, but the judge believes he is capable of assisting his defense and is faking some of his symptoms in order to avoid a trial. Mitchell’s wife and partner in crime, Wanda Barzee, was also initially ruled incompetent, but later on she pleaded guilty.

This is basically going to be a show trial — I mean, what does the state have left to prove? Everyone knows what Mitchell did and I don’t envy his lawyers, having to advocate for that piece of scum. This case has dragged on long enough.

One of Elizabeth Smart’s kidnappers pleads guilty

Wanda Barzee, Brian David Mitchell’s accomplice in the abduction of Elizabeth Smart, pleaded guilty today. She got fifteen years in prison. She’s already spent the last five years in a mental hospital. It’s only recently that they decide to forcibly medicate her and she became competent enough to stand trial. As to whether Mitchell will is up for grabs — the courts say he can’t be forcibly medicated.

Barzee apologized to Elizabeth and her family for the suffering she caused them, which is only proper. I feel a little sorry for her. She seems like a pathetic, weak woman. But that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t be punished for her actions.

Elizabeth Smart goes public

Elizabeth Smart, who (as I am about to unnecessarily explain) was abducted by Brian Mitchell and held for nine months back in 2002, has testified at a hearing to determine Mitchell’s competency and has detailed the horrors of her captivity for the first time.

Elizabeth is now 21 and a music major at Brigham Young University. She’s grown into a beautiful young woman. The details she gives don’t surprise me a bit: rape several times a day, forced to take drugs and alcohol, constantly threatened with death, etc. Elizabeth seems shockingly well-adjusted for having gone through all that — evidence for my theory that human beings are amazingly resilient and have the potential to bounce back from anything.

Elizabeth also says that Mitchell seemed perfectly rational all the time while he held her and only started going on about religion and being a prophet when he wanted something. She thinks his insanity thing is an act. I have no opinion on that, it’s not for me to decide, but frankly I’m starting to wonder if this guy is ever going to be tried. It’s been six years since his arrest and they haven’t even decided whether he’s competent or not, never mind set a trial date. It doesn’t really matter, I think, as long as he’s locked up forever.

You can read some of Elizabeth’s testimony here.

As for Wanda Barzee, Mitchell’s wife and accomplice, the press has got hold of some letters she wrote to her mom where she speaks of wanting to repent of her sins. But she doesn’t really talk about Elizabeth, only says that both she and Elizabeth were “victims” of Mitchell. She hasn’t been declared competent yet either, but she seems to be on the way there now that they’ve forced her to take antipsychotic drugs.

Additional articles:
The New York Daily News
The Associated Press
The London Daily Telegraph
The Salt Lake Tribune

The media and missing people

I once read a novel about a teen prodigy who tries to come up with a mathematical formula to predict the duration and outcome of romantic relationships. It occurs to me that if you were interested enough, and much better at math than I, you could probably come up with a formula to predict how much media attention a missing person will get.

The world has grown much smaller in recent decades, due mainly to the internet. Every day true crime buffs on web boards discuss cases many hundreds or thousands of miles from their homes. A click of the mouse and you can access thousands of newspapers. The Charley Project has over 7,000 cases on it, and anyone who googles one of the names will find the person’s Charley Project casefile with all the details I can provide. But all the same, it takes a lot for any missing person to become a household word. It only happens to a select few.

A lot of people think it’s just an issue of race, or income. I’ve seen many blog entries saying “This rich/white missing person is all over the news, and this poor/minority person who disappeared around the same time isn’t. Clearly the media is racist/classist.” I don’t think it’s nearly as simple as that, however. Race and income are part of it, of course, but there are many other issues to consider.

I would list the factors in this equation as follows, in no particular order:

  • Race — White people are more likely to get attention than people from minority races.
  • Physical attractiveness — Beautiful people are more likely to get attention.
  • Income — The more wealthy the MP or their family, the better.
  • Social status of MP and/or their family — If you’re a missing boy scout or pregnant housewife, you’re much more likely to become a media darling than, say, a prostitute or a drug addict.
  • Circumstances of disappearance — Runaways and family abduction cases rarely, if ever, receive national attention. People who simply drop off the face of the earth, with no clues one way or another, also tend to get ignored. On the other hand, an obvious stranger abduction (with witnesses) is riveting and tends to draw a lot of interest.
  • Gender — Female missing people get more press. If it’s a very young kid, gender doesn’t matter as much. With adults, though, women have a definite edge.
  • Age — The younger, the better. Little kids get a lot of attention, teenagers less so, unless there’s clear evidence they didn’t run away. Young adults, particularly women in their twenties, get attention. If the MP is over forty, their chances of drawing a lot of news drop precipitously.
  • Social connections of MP and their loved ones — If the MP or their family has a lot of social connections who will help them, like if they belong to a big church, they are more likely to get attention because they have more people to advocate for them. If the missing person is related to someone famous, more to them.

The most common demographic of missing people is a black adult male. I read somewhere that black men make up something like one-third of all adults reported missing in America. But how often do you see them on Nancy Grace?

Two major missing person cases that drew worldwide attention are Laci Peterson and Elizabeth Smart, both of whom disappeared in 2002.

Their stories captivated the United States and made the news abroad as well. One ended happily, the other not: Elizabeth turned up alive and well in the company of a pair of loons who’d been holding her captive for months. Laci’s body, and that of her unborn child, were found floating in the Pacific Ocean, and her husband was convicted of two counts of murder.

Both Laci and Elizabeth had many factors that made them become missing person media darlings. Both were Caucasian, female and quite attractive. Both were young — Laci was 32 27, and Elizabeth just 14. Laci came from a comfortably middle-class family, and Elizabeth’s parents were wealthy and could afford to hire a publicist for her. Both families were considered very respectable and there was no indication of trouble in Laci or Elizabeth’s backgrounds. As for the circumstances of disappearance: Elizabeth was abducted at knifepoint from her bed in the middle of the night. (Her sister witnessed this; otherwise it’s likely Elizabeth would have been written off as a runaway.) Laci, who was seven months pregnant, vanished without a trace on Christmas Eve. Nobody witnessed anything, but right away people assumed something terrible must have happened to her — it seems highly unlikely that a pregnant woman would choose to walk out of her life at Christmas.

The same month Elizabeth disappeared, a little boy named Jyrine Harris disappeared from Irvington, New Jersey. He is still missing. Certainly he was never covered in People magazine or on talk shows. Even within his own region his disappearance was almost unknown. One article I did find lamented the situation:

Aside from [police detective] Malek and a few of Jyrine’s relatives, not many people appear concerned about the boy’s whereabouts.

When the toddler disappeared, the only volunteers who came forward to search for him were off-duty police officers. After a flurry of media coverage, the story has slipped off the pages of newspapers and the evening news. Even with a $20,000 reward put up by the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office for information on Jyrine’s whereabouts, the phone never rings…

What are the differences between a case like Jyrine’s and a case like Elizabeth’s or Laci’s?

Jyrine was very young, only two years old at the time of his disappearance. Males are less likely to get coverage, but not if they’re tiny. He’s African-American, which works against him in the press. He suffers from ostogenesis imperfecta, a brittle bone disease, and had a broken leg when he went missing. Clearly, being a toddler with limited mobility, he didn’t run away from home. But we can’t really rule out anything else. Jyrine’s family was poor and pretty troubled. His father was a heroin addict and wasn’t involved in his life. His mother was in jail when he disappeared; she’d been charged with abusing him. (The charges were later dropped. Jyrine’s mother wrote me at one point and said she’d never harmed her son and that his injuries were due to his disease. I can buy that; babies with ostogenesis imperfecta can get fractures just from having their diapers changed.)

Jyrine lived with his grandmother and eight other people, and his sister’s boyfriend was also at the house the night he disappeared. He was discovered missing at 2:30 a.m., but his disappearance wasn’t reported to police until 5:00 a.m. The little boy’s cousin says Jyrine was abducted from his bed by two men, but the police have treated the family as suspects. Jyrine’s own parents seem to believe someone in the family harmed him. Who can tell what happened? Jyrine’s gender, his race, his family’s poverty and low social status, and the murky circumstances of his disappearance work against him, and it’s extremely sad, because every missing person deserves to be found and that often requires public knowledge of their case.

But if the world was a perfect place, there would be no missing people to start with.