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Taken: The Kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart

Aired November 20, 2010 - 22:00   ET



MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN HOST (voice-over): Her parents called her their angel. Elizabeth Smart was just 14 when she vanished. Snatched in the dead of the night.

ED SMART, ELIZABETH'S FATHER: You're in your home, you're safe and everything and somebody comes in and takes your child. Our world has changed.

SAVIDGE: The story struck fear in the hearts of parents everywhere. Who would take Elizabeth? Where had they taken her and why?

(on camera): Salt Lake City eight years ago was still basking in the glory of the Winter Olympics when Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped from her very own bed in a well-to-do neighborhood here.

(voice-over): There were few clues. She had no enemies. Her family was shattered. June 5th, 2002, an emotional plea from a father in distress.

ED SMART: Elizabeth is the sweetest girl. She's an angel.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you having fun, Elizabeth?



SAVIDGE: Elizabeth Smart, an innocent 14-year-old was taken at knifepoint from her family's home in the middle of the night. The only witness, her 9-year-old sister, Mary Katherine. Scared, she waited two hours before running to tell her parents. A slice through the kitchen window screen confirmed their worst fear. Elizabeth was gone.

Elizabeth's father, Ed, called 911. And then close family.

ED SMART: This is a family who really was called into action to do everything we could. We knew that time was of the essence.

SAVIDGE: Ed's brother, Tom, a local news photographer, helped feed the story to the media.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're watching KSL5.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A family waits in agony for any sign of their 14-year-old daughter.


TOM SMART, ELIZABETH'S UNCLE: We really tried to get Ed and Lois out in front of the camera to personalize this to the nation.

ED SMART: We'll be forever eternally indebted to you for the help that you've given us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So that they can feel who this little girl is and the pain of the family.

SAVIDGE: News moved fast through this close-knit Mormon community. Volunteers came up by the hundreds. The search was on.

ED SMART: We want all of the volunteers to know we are so thankful for you.

SAVIDGE: As is customary in these cases, the police considered immediate family members possible suspects.

(on camera): There was a point after the initial search and the community involvement that the case turns and turns on the family. You and Ed in particular became suspects.


SAVIDGE: Brought in for polygraphs, and I believe that Ed was first.

TOM SMART: Yes. He actually called me and he said, I've just been through 2-1/2 hours of the worst hell I've ever been in. And then I went in and spent eight hours on a polygraph.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Eventually the family was cleared and the police turned their focus elsewhere. A green Saturn seen in the neighborhood two days prior belonging to Bret Michael Edmunds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's wanted for questioning. We don't consider him a suspect.

SAVIDGE: But Edmunds had no information. False leads led to false hope. Ed Smart needed a lifeline.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got breaking news on the Elizabeth Smart abduction case.

SAVIDGE: He leaned on John Walsh of "America's Most Wanted". JOHN WALSH, HOST, AMERICAN'S MOST WANTED: He said, be straight with me. Tell me what the odds are. You're the one guy who can tell me the truth. And I said, you know what, Ed, 99 percent of the cases I do have a very unhappy ending. You're lucky to find the remains, if you do. You're lucky if they ever catch the guy. Most of the time you never get justice.

SAVIDGE: But authorities were soon convinced they had their man -- Richard Ricci. A hired hand who worked for three months inside the Smart family home.

TOM SMART: And police really grab on to him. I mean, they believe he is the one.

SAVIDGE (on camera): They do.


TOM SMART: Well, there were a lot of reasons why. I mean, he was an ex-con. He didn't have a background of -- that would say he was a sexual predator. But he did have -- he had robbed one of Edward's best friend, come in, taken things in the middle of the night.

SAVIDGE: Did you think he did it?

TOM SMART: No, I didn't think he did it. And the reason I didn't think he did it was because the only eyewitness said he didn't do it.

SAVIDGE: That eyewitness was 9-year-old Mary Katherine who insisted the man who took his sister Elizabeth didn't look like Ricci. Elizabeth's father Ed didn't know what to believe.

ED SMART: If it happens to be that Richard is not the one, that he will please come forward and contact us. We need Elizabeth back. I still feel that Elizabeth is out there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was in bed with me.

SAVIDGE: Ricci's wife came to his defense.


ANGELA RICCI, RICHARD RICCI'S HUSBAND: I truly in my heart, my mind and my soul, I know that Richard did not have anything to do with this. And I will stand by him.


SAVIDGE (voice-over): The month after Elizabeth's abduction, another house was targeted. This time, the home of Elizabeth's two teenage cousins.

AARON KENNARI, SALT LAKE COUNTY'S SHERIFF: The residents on the Virginia Hills Drive had been cut in similar fashion to what had been done at the Elizabeth Smart residence.

SAVIDGE: But Ricci was in custody at the time. So the attempted break-in, the Smarts say, was brushed off as a cruel prank.

(on camera): Right here at this state prison in Utah, Richard Ricci was sitting behind bars in an unrelated burglary charge and parole violation. Suddenly he was rushed to the hospital and died of a brain hemorrhage. The police's prime suspect was now dead.

WALSH: I think that they were absolutely convinced that Richard Ricci was the abductor of Elizabeth and that he had murdered and left her body somewhere. And whenever she was dead or alive, he took that secret with him to the grave.

TOM SMART: I think people thought that it was over and what we held on to was false hope and a family that wouldn't give up. We had reasons for believing that it wasn't Richard Ricci.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Coming up, a little girl has a clue that would blow open the case.


TOM SMART: The big moment of course in this case was where Mary Katherine has an epiphany.


SAVIDGE: The kidnapper, she said, was a man named Emmanuel.



DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone, I'm Don Lemon. We'll return to CNN's in depth look of the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart in just a moment. But we want to give you some equally intriguing news that we want to talk about and we're going to tell you about it at the bottom of the hour.

Even though it sounds like something out of a blockbuster movie, remember those police who say a shooting of a veteran Hollywood publicist Ronnie Chasen appears to be nothing more than a random event. She attended a red carpet premiere of the movie "Burlesque" just hours before the shooting and the nature of the killing has really some speculating that it may have been targeted. We're going to investigate this.

Live at 10:30 p.m. Eastern tonight, we'll look into the life of Ronnie Chasen. Who was she? Who did she represent? And why some think that she was targeted for an assassination. Are police any closer to an arrest? A live investigation coming up. That's in about 20 minutes right here on CNN.



SAVIDGE (voice-over): Fall 2002, five months after Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped from her Salt Lake City home, she was still nowhere to be found.

ED SMART: It's a dark, horrible thing. I don't know that there's too much darker than having your child be taken.

WALSH: It's hell for him. You can't sleep, you can't eat. You're waiting for every phone call.

SAVIDGE: The steady media attention and volunteer efforts were beginning to die down. But the Smart Family never lost hope.

ED SMART: We still feel that Elizabeth is out there. We still need each one of your help. We need you to be the eyes and ears in the neighborhood.

WALSH: They know the odds of finding their daughter alive are diminished almost down to nothing.

ED SMART: I'm asking and I'm pleading with whoever has her that I would do anything to have her back in my arms.

SAVIDGE: Then in October, an unexpected new lead. Elizabeth's 9-year-old sister, Mary Katherine, who was the only witness to the abduction, had a sudden flashback and was finally able to identify who took her sister -- Emmanuel. A homeless man the Smarts once hired to do odd jobs at their house.

TOM SMART: He calls me up that night and said, Tom, Mary Katherine remembers who it is. Everything changed on that day, and all of a sudden we were back in high gear again.

SAVIDGE: Ed Smart called police, realizing they'd been focused on the wrong guy, Richard Ricci.

(on camera): How did the police treat the new lead?

TOM SMART: They took her to the justice center. They interviewed her. They told us not to go public. They said they would do whatever they could to find this guy.

SAVIDGE: Do you think they believed her?

TOM SMART: No, I don't. They came out and said, we think Richard Ricci is by far the most important person in this.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Ricci had died in custody and the Smarts worried police would close the investigation. That meant the search would come to an end, leaving Elizabeth and her abductor still out there.

(on camera): Do you think that Salt Lake City police were doing enough to find Elizabeth?

TOM SMART: I think the Salt Lake City police did more to find Elizabeth than probably any single case they'd ever had in their life. But obviously something happened there when the police -- particularly when we found out who we thought really did do it and they wouldn't give us the time of day. Yes, at that point, we had a serious problem.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And this is what I could remember of him --

SAVIDGE (voice-over): The Smarts were desperate to keep the search alive. So they held a press conference, releasing a sketch of Emmanuel, a crucial tip came in.

Emmanuel was really Brian David Mitchell. Ed called the only person he knew could help, his new friend, John Walsh.

WALSH: And he said, John, you know, the police want to close this case. They say that Richard Ricci killed Elizabeth, that her body's buried in the desert somewhere, I don't believe that. I believe she's out there alive. I'd walked in the Smarts' shoes. I knew they needed help. I knew that Elizabeth was rapidly becoming just another poster.

SAVIDGE: Walsh put photos of Mitchell on "America's Most Wanted," where they reach a national audience.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you can help us find Brian David Mitchell for questioning --


WALSH: Brian David Mitchell's ex-wife calls "America's Most Wanted" and says, he doesn't look clean cut. He's a pedophile, he's a creep. And I'll give you a tip, he looks like Bin Laden. He looks like the Taliban. He's a creeped-out street preacher. That's the guy you should be looking for.

SAVIDGE: Columnist and author Lee Benson says Mitchell was a fixture on Salt Lake Streets, a religious zealot who considered himself a prophet.

ED SMART: Somewhere along the way, he became this delusional person. He progressively became the Jesus man and he started doing the bizarre behavior, he moved out of his house and lived out of a trailer and put on the robes and then started to write revelations that he said he received from God.

SAVIDGE: Tom Smart went looking for Mitchell, the Jesus man, on the streets of Salt Lake. And what he learned from a local restaurant waitress was shocking.

TOM SMART: He said, oh, yeah, the Jesus people, Joseph and Mary. She said, yes, I know who they are, they come in all the time. And then she stopped for a minute and she said, the last time I saw them, though, there were three of them.

The next day, she called me at home and she says, Tom, I've been thinking about it. And she says, I think that was Elizabeth. And it was like being hit by lightning. Honestly, I dropped to my knees. I thought, oh, my God, she's alive.

SAVIDGE: On March 12th, days after watching "America's Most Wanted," Anita Dickerson was driving in a suburb of Salt Lake. She spotted Brian David Mitchell.


ANITA DICKERSON: I got out of the car, walked towards the back as they were walking at the sidewalk. And I looked him in the face. He looked at me. And I turned around, went back to my husband and I said, that's him, let me have your cell phone.


SAVIDGE: When we return, the shocking story of what happened to Elizabeth Smart.


WALSH: He said, I got in your bedroom that night. I'll get back in that house and I'll kill your little sister and I'll kill your family, but first I'll kill you.





SAVIDGE (voice-over): It had been nine months since Elizabeth Smart disappear from her home when police finally got a break.

(on camera): Just days after Brian Mitchell's photos appeared on "America's Most Wanted," police received two 911 calls. The caller said they had seen Mitchell on this street just outside Salt Lake City and that he'd been walking with a woman and a girl.

(voice-over): Police found Mitchell and his wife and a girl wearing a gray wig and sunglasses. At first she denied her identity. But police knew it was Elizabeth.

TOM SMART: And then Edward calls me right after that and says, Tom, they've called me and asked me to come out to the police station and he's in the car driving out there as fast as he can. And I told him, I said, Ed, I think you're going to go see your daughter.

And then Edward calls me and says, he's just in tears and he says, it's her, Tom. Thank you.

SAVIDGE: It was the moment they had hoped for all those months but never knew would come.

ED SMART: And I'm so grateful for the prayers and the help and the eyes out there. It is just absolutely wonderful.

SAVIDGE: Ed called John Walsh and asked him to come to Utah.

WALSH: All the brothers were there and all the kids. And when she walked down those stairs, that was incredible. That was probably the best day I've spent on the show.

SAVIDGE: Their missing angel was home again. But could home heal the nine months of hell Elizabeth Smart had endured?


LARRY KING, HOST, LARRY KING LIVE: Tonight, Elizabeth Smart speaks out --


SAVIDGE: When she was ready, she braved the cameras.

ELIZABETH SMART: I don't try to think back, I don't try to look back. I mean, I see my life before and then now. And I just don't sit there and think about it. I just go on.

SAVIDGE: Her parents release a book and collaborated on a made- for-TV movie. But the most horrifying part of the story was missing. What really happened to Elizabeth during her captivity?

(on camera): After Elizabeth was kidnapped from her home in the middle of the night wearing only pajamas, she was forced at knifepoint to walk up this trail. And it was a march that would go for miles and take anywhere from three to five hours.

(voice-over): Within a few miles of home at a makeshift campsite, her abductor, Brian David Mitchell, handed her off to his wife, Wanda Barzee, who then prepared a marriage ceremony.

Tru TV reporter Jean Casarez.

JEAN CASAREZ, CORRESPONDENT, IN SESSION: Wanda Barzee said, you take your pajamas, your underwear off or he's going to rip them off of you. She did as she was told. Put a robe on. She said Wanda left. The defendant came in the tent, started to rape her. She thought, she screamed and she said, I'm just a little girl!

SAVIDGE: Later on, Mitchell used a cable to tether her between two trees and force her to do chores. He called himself a prophet, destined to take seven wives. Remember that attempted break-in at the home of Elizabeth's cousin? Turns out, Elizabeth revealed in court, it was no prank. It was Brian David Mitchell.

CASAREZ: He continually told her that God had spoken to him, that he was the divine prophet, the one that would have plural wives and God had chosen her to be his first wife. SAVIDGE: Elizabeth was paraded through the streets of Salt Lake veiled and robed in white, raising the question why didn't she escape? Was she brainwashed?

Elizabeth's Uncle Tom Smart who co-authored a book on Elizabeth's kidnapping said she was just trying to survive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you Elizabeth, asked Officer O'Neal?

SAVIDGE: But Mitchell threatened her with death after an attempt to escape.

TOM SMART: He said, if you try that again, I will kill you, I will kill your family.

SAVIDGE (on camera): So it's not so much that she is brainwashed. It's that she has come up with a strategy to get through this?

TOM SMART: That's my belief. I don't believe that she was ever felt like she was safe because of the violent and horrible things that she had been through and his threats.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Despite her ordeal, Elizabeth was determined to face her captors in court.

WALSH: Lots of people don't have the grace. Lots of people don't have the wherewithal, they don't have the loving support system that Elizabeth does. She told me on many occasions, I want my day in court.

SAVIDGE: It took eight years before Elizabeth Smart got her day in court. The process was delayed by defense claims that Mitchell was insane, not mentally fit to stand trial.

WALSH: They've delayed this. They've threatened to move it, they've tested whether he's sane or insane. The man is sane. He's manipulating the system.

SAVIDGE: The defense will try to prove otherwise. In the courtroom last week, Elizabeth Smart testified that she was raped daily, forced to drink alcohol and to look at porn.

Prosecutor, "Ms. Smart, when he was returning to the camp, would he scream out loud or in a loud voice, I'm going to "F" your eyes out?"

Elizabeth Smart, "Yes."

Prosecutor, "Did he do that often?"

Elizabeth Smart, "Yes."

Prosecutor, "What would happen when he returned to the camp after saying that?"

Elizabeth Smart, "He would rape me."

Jean Casarez who's covering the trial was inside the courtroom when Elizabeth testified.

CASAREZ: Mitchell told her the time had come for her to engage in a new type of sexual activity with him. She said, I intentionally drank as much as I could because I didn't want to know it, I didn't want to feel it, I didn't want to remember it.

SAVIDGE: Mitchell wasn't in the courtroom to hear Elizabeth testify. He was forced to leave after he refused to stop singing. Mitchell faces federal charges of kidnapping and transporting a minor across state lines for improper purposes. Wanda Barzee has already pleaded guilty to the same charges and is serving a 15-year sentence. If the jury finds Mitchell guilty, he could get life behind bars.

And Elizabeth, now 23, could finally move on.

TOM SMART: This is one of the really incredible endings, miraculous, maybe. The real miracle of the thing is who she is and how she's handled it. I mean, she is one strong woman.