Monday, May 30, 2011

The End of the Story - or Perhaps the Beginning...

Last week I headed back to Utah for the conclusion of the Brian David Mitchell sentencing. Why do all these creeps have three names? I checked into the same hotel as last time and was given the exact same room. The entire city of Salt Lake seemed to be headed to the U2 concert that night, but I was on a wild goose chase looking for the Whole Foods which had moved since last time I was there. I got confused and caught in a tangle of rowdy U2 spectators while I negotiated the packed trains. I finally hopped off and walked. Sadly, I never found the Whole Foods - well, not until later in the weekend.

The next morning my author friend Dorothy came to the hotel and we had breakfast and caught up on our lives since last we'd seen each other (in November, in the courtroom). We both felt a strong pull towards this case and are both writing about it in various ways. We headed back to room 247 in the Federal Court Building and waited about 2 1/2 hours until we were finally let back into the room for the sentencing hearing.

It was so swift that I'm still wrapping my brain around it. Some stalling from the bumbling defense team, some lucid arguments from the prosecution and then the Federal Marshals ushered the creep back into the courtroom for the last time. As usual his eyes were closed and he was singing hymns. What a jerk.

Ed Smart, Elizabeth's father, stood and took the mic. He spoke with emotion when he said, "Your perversion and exploitation of religion is not a defense. You put Elizabeth Smart through over 9 months of psychological hell..."

Then Elizabeth came to the stand, took a deep breath and said the following: (or something close to it, I was scribbling words and watching all at the same time)

"I don't have very much to say to you. I know what you did because I was there. I know you know what you did was wrong. I have a wonderful life. You took away 9 months of my life but no matter what you do you will never affect me again. You will have to face your punishment whether in this life or the next. I hope you're ready for it."

The judge reiterated what a heinous and degrading crime it was and then sentenced the creep to Life in Prison, twice. He asked if the creep had anything to say, but he kept his eyes closed and kept humming.

And that was it.
It was over.

There was a press conference. I stood a little behind the poised and beautiful Elizabeth as she spoke like a pro. I took some pictures.

Dorothy and I went out for an early dinner and discussed everything. I went back to the hotel gym and worked out for an hour, then crawled into bed.

My childhood fear of kidnapping coupled with the novel I'd written with a kidnapping at its core is what brought me to the trial in the first place. The experience, however, turned into much more than research for a book. I was immersed into a world of religion and a squirrely man's need for power. I met brilliant members of the court, from lawyers to guards, and a myriad of law students. I befriended another author and we spent a lot of time chewing on all the testimony we heard in court. I came to understand a complicated LDS history with power and control, polygamy and even violence at its core, and how this current case really descended from something that has always been.

The next day, before my afternoon flight, I headed back to search for the Whole Foods. I was finally able to find it due to the lovely Android technology. It moved into an old Trolley Building. I took a picture of it because it was so hip. Inside, while finding treats for the plane and scoping out what I'd have for lunch, I spotted the Smart family - Elizabeth, her mother and her sister. They were walking down aisles, grabbing lots of food.

I wanted to say something to Elizabeth, but I didn't know what. Other shoppers were noticing her, but not saying anything, so I took my cue from them. I bought some lunch and sat at the tables nearby. Now this is closure! I thought. Elizabeth and her mom checked out and then waited right by me for Mary-Katherine to finish paying. I snuck a picture.
It was thrilling to me that we all weren't in a courtroom, on uncomfortable, wooden benches. We were engaging in life, eating and shopping - such normal activities!

My journey to Salt Lake City to experience a kidnapping trial was made complete by seeing Elizabeth Smart hanging with her family at a supermarket. I was lucky enough to witness the first day of the rest of her life, her wonderful life as she told Mitchell. And knowing what she'd been through, this was surely something to celebrate.

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