SALT LAKE CITY – Nine years after being kidnapped, tortured and raped, Elizabeth Smart is ready to start a "beautiful" chapter in her life, helping other child victims who can't speak for themselves or are still missing.
"I think one of the biggest ways to overcome any trial in life, to heal from any kind of experience is by helping those around you," Smart said Wednesday, after her kidnapper was sentenced to life in prison. "By lifting those around you, you end up lifting yourself as well."
Brian David Mitchell will spend the rest of his life in prison after being sentenced by a federal judge.
A jury convicted the 57-year-old street preacher of snatching a then 14-year-old Smart from her Salt Lake City bedroom by knifepoint in the early hours of June 5, 2002. The massive search to find the blond-haired, blue-eyed girl riveted the nation, as did her improbable recovery while walking with her captor on a suburban street on March 12, 2003.
After the hearing, a beaming and poised Smart told reporters she was thrilled by the sentence.
"Today is the ending of a very long chapter and the beginning of a very beautiful chapter for me," she said.
Smart, who will graduate from Brigham Young University in Provo next year, said she's weighing her options for the future and wants to work in child advocacy, including establishing the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, which will focus on protecting children from falling victim to kidnapping and sexual crimes.
"I am looking at all the different options and trying to decide where I can make the biggest difference, where I can have the biggest effect for good."
Smart, now 23, stood fearless in the courtroom, finally getting the chance to confront her kidnapper with a steady, clear voice.
It took her about 30 seconds.
"I don't have very much to say to you. I know exactly what you did," Smart said. "I know that you know that what you did was wrong. You did it with full knowledge ... I have a wonderful life now and no matter what you do, you will never affect me again.
"You took away nine months of my life that can never be returned," she added.
Mitchell, frail and skinny with a long, peppery white beard, sat the way he did through years of court hearings — eyes closed, hands clasped as if in prayer, softly singing hymns, never looking at his victim.
Smart said she wasn't bothered by being ignored or that Mitchell didn't speak when asked by the judge.
"I think I can firmly say that I heard enough during those nine months and I never have to hear anything else from him again," she said.
Mitchell's sentencing closed a major legal chapter in the heartbreaking ordeal that stalled for years after he was declared mentally ill and unfit to stand trial in state court. A federal jury in December unanimously convicted him of kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor across state lines for sex.
When the judge asked if he had anything to say, Mitchell, whose hands and feet were bound, kept singing. His bizarre demeanor changed just once during the hearing: As he was sentenced, he sang louder.
At trial, Smart described her ordeal as "nine months of hell." Mitchell whisked her away to his camp in the foothills near the family home. She was stripped of her favorite red pajamas, draped in white, religious robes and forced into a polygamous marriage with Mitchell. She was tethered to a metal cable strung between two trees and subjected to near-daily rapes while being forced to use alcohol, drugs and view pornography.
Mitchell, who outlined his religious beliefs in a rambling 27-page manifesto he called "The Book of Immanuel David Isaiah," took Smart to California for five of the months she was held captive. She recalled being forced to live homeless, dress in disguises and stay quiet or lie about her identity if ever approached by strangers or police. She said he threatened her life and the lives of her family every day.
U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball said Mitchell deserved a life sentence because the facts of the case were "unusually heinous and degrading."
Carlie Christensen, U.S. attorney for Utah, said the resolution was long overdue for Smart and her family. "It is a measure of justice for Elizabeth and it will certainly ensure Brian David Mitchell will never inflict such intolerable and unspeakable cruelty on anyone else again," Christensen said.
The defense waived its closing remarks before sentencing. Parker Douglas, a member of Mitchell's defense team, said outside court the sentence was not unexpected.
"I wish Elizabeth Smart and her family the best. I hope they get to move on," Douglas said.
Mitchell has 10 days to appeal his conviction.
The facts of the case have never been in dispute, but defense attorneys have said Mitchell's actions were tainted by mental illness and long-held delusional beliefs that he had been commanded by God to fulfill important prophecies.
Smart, who recently returned from a Mormon church mission in France, has described her captor as vulgar and self-serving. She said she believed he was driven by his desire for sex, drugs and alcohol, not by any sincere religious beliefs.
Mitchell was deemed competent for a federal trial, though a parallel state case — where he remains charged with six felonies — stalled after a judge twice determined he was unfit and rejected a petition for forced treatment.
Defense attorneys maintain Mitchell needs psychiatric attention and asked the judge to recommend incarceration in a federal prison hospital.
Wanda Barzee, his estranged wife and co-defendant in the case, is already serving a 15-year sentence in a federal prison hospital in Texas.
Associated Press Writer Chi-Chi Zhang contributed to this report.