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Federal judge rules Elizabeth Smart suspect competent to stand trial

Elizabeth Smart, now 21, was abducted from a bedroom at her Utah home in 2002.
Elizabeth Smart, now 21, was abducted from a bedroom at her Utah home in 2002.
  • Brian David Mitchell is accused of kidnapping Utah teenager Elizabeth Smart in 2002
  • U.S. attorney calls ruling "a significant step toward holding the defendant accountable"
  • Mitchell and his wife arrested nine months after Smart taken from Salt Lake City, Utah, home

(CNN) -- Brian David Mitchell, accused of kidnapping Utah teenager Elizabeth Smart in 2002, is competent to stand trial, a federal judge ruled Monday.

Carlie Christensen, acting U.S. attorney for Utah, released a statement saying she was pleased with U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball's ruling, calling it "a significant step toward holding the defendant accountable for his conduct."

Mitchell, now 56, is accused of abducting Smart, then 14, at knifepoint from her bedroom in her family's Salt Lake City home in June 2002. Smart was found nine months later, walking down a street in the Salt Lake City suburb of Sandy, Utah, in the company of Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Eileen Barzee. Mitchell, a drifter and self-described prophet who called himself Emmanuel, had done some handyman work at the Smarts' home.

In November, Barzee, now 64, pleaded guilty in federal court to kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor in connection with Smart's abduction. As part of her plea deal with prosecutors, she entered a guilty plea to a lesser charge and agreed to cooperate in the state and federal cases against her husband.

Smart, now 21, testified at a competency hearing for Mitchell in October, saying she had been held captive in Utah and California after her abduction. Just after she was kidnapped, she testified, Mitchell took her to a wooded area behind her home and performed a mock marriage ceremony with her, then raped her. She said that during the nine months of her captivity, no 24-hour period passed without her being raped by Mitchell.

State court proceedings against Mitchell had been on hold pending the outcome of the federal case against him.

Read the judge's opinion

"Elizabeth Smart, her family and this community have waited many years for resolution of this case," Christensen said in the statement.

"While we have great respect for the state court efforts in this case, we believe that the additional in-depth testimony of both fact and expert witnesses presented to Judge Kimball in the federal competency proceedings was instrumental in his decision-making process," she said. "Many of these fact and expert witnesses testified for the first time during the federal competency hearing."

As a next step, Kimball will set a date for Mitchell's trial to begin, she said. His ruling on Mitchell's competency cannot be appealed until after the case concludes.

Barzee had been housed at the Utah State Hospital while courts determined her competency as well as that of her husband. After years of being declared incompetent, she was found competent to stand trial, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. A state court had ruled she could be forcibly medicated, and that ruling led federal prosecutors to bring a case against the couple.

Last month, Barzee pleaded guilty but mentally ill in state court in the attempted kidnapping of Smart's cousin a month after Smart's disappearance. In exchange for her plea to one count of conspiracy to commit aggravated kidnapping, state prosecutors dropped charges against her in Smart's abduction, according to Nancy Volmer, spokeswoman for Utah state courts.

Federal prosecutors have recommended that Barzee serve a 15-year prison sentence but asked that her sentencing date be continued to allow for her prosecution in the case against Mitchell. She faces between one and 15 years in prison on the state charge, but prosecutors agreed to allow that sentence to run concurrently with the federal sentence. Sentencing is set for May 21 on the state charge.

At her plea hearing, she apologized to Smart and her family, saying, "I'm greatly humbled as I realize how much Elizabeth Smart has been victimized and the role I played in it.

"I'm so sorry, Elizabeth, for all the pain and suffering I have caused you and your family," she said, according to a court transcript. "It is my hope that you will be able to find it in your heart to forgive me one day."

Smart was not in court to hear her apology. But her father, Ed Smart, told reporters afterward, "I just hope that it was sincere, and that she will continue on that track and prove that through the rest of Brian Mitchell's trial, or whatever happens."