The 9-year story of Elizabeth Smart's abduction appeared to come to a close this week as her captor was sentenced to life in prison. Smart, now 23, was 14 when she was kidnapped from her bedroom in her family's home almost a decade ago.
"I also want you to know that I have a wonderful life now, that no matter what you do you will never affect me again," Smart told Mitchell during the trial. "You took away nine months of my life that can never be replaced. "In this life or the next, you will be held responsible for your actions and I hope you're ready for that when the time comes."
Reporters uncovered several religion angles over the years, from her abductor's self-appointment as prophet, his hymn singing in the trial to Smart's faith and her recent Mormon mission.
The Associated Press report on the sentence briefly touches on the religion angles but fails to explain them. Sure, this is a basic courts story where reporters don't need to go in depth into the already uncovered religion angles, but the story uses religion as a hook without giving the reader just a few details to fill them in.
The AP's headline, for instance, says "Former street preacher gets life in Smart case." The story never explains Brian David Mitchell's former street preaching life or how he used religion in the trial. The story does touch on faith briefly, mentioning the hymns he would sing during the trial to disrupt the trial.
On Wednesday, her father spoke to the man who kidnapped his daughter "Exploitation of religion is not a defense," Ed Smart said. "You put Elizabeth through nine months of psychological hell."
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 described her captor as vulgar and self-serving, testified that she believed Mitchell was driven by his desire for sex, drugs and alcohol, not by any sincere religious beliefs.
"Nine months of living with him and seeing him proclaim that he was God's servant and called to do God's work and everything he did to me and my family is something that I know that God would not tell somebody to do," Smart said during the trial.
After that final quote from Smart in the paragraph above, it's odd that the story doesn't mention Smart's faith or that she just returned from a mission.
Those remarks were a reference to a contention by defense attorneys during the trial that Mitchell believed he was acting under a commandment from God when he kidnapped Smart from her Salt Lake City home, and should be found not guilty by reason of insanity.
"Regardless of what your defense has proposed, you put Elizabeth through nine months of psychological hell," Ed Smart said. "I hope at some time in your life you find what you have done is wrong."
The embedded video of the press conference demonstrates a somewhat awkward exchanged with the reporters who were trying to get an emotional reaction out of Smart. Smart comes off poised and prepared, not giving tearful or triumphant responses, probably not what reporters wanted.
In the few minutes I watched, I noticed that none of the reporters brought up her faith. Perhaps her emotions would remain the same, but it would be interesting to see if she offered a more spontaneous reaction. Then again, she offers similar seemingly-prepared responses in an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune about her mission.
Few stories mentioned Smart's faith, and although the mention wasn't necessary, it definitely seems to be a big part of the BYU senior's life. These stories are the conclusion to a long court case, and court reports don't often go into every single detail. Still, you would think reporters might include a little more explanation of the religion angles if they mention them in passing.