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I believe in miracles. As a criminal defense attorney, believing in miracles is as much a part of my job as wearing clothes to court. Without a firm belief in miracles, it would be completely disingenuous for me to nod my head “yes” when my red-handed clients lean over and ask, “So, do you think I have a chance?” I’m fairly certain I can recognize a miracle when I see one, both in and out of the courtroom. In my professional opinion, finding a 15-year-old Mormon teenager happily keeping company with a panhandling pariah after she’s been missing for nine months is no miracle. Not even in Utah. Elizabeth Smart disappeared during what seemed like a spree of tragic child abductions last year. But unlike similar victims whose barely-out-of-kindergarten bodies were found discarded on the side of a road, Elizabeth was lucky. Police found the teenager very much alive, just 15 minutes from the million-dollar Salt Lake City mansion she calls home. The prosecution’s theory is that Elizabeth was kidnapped by a man with a knife. Or maybe it was a gun. It’s hard to say since the only witness was Elizabeth’s little sister, Mary Katherine. While the rest of the Smart household slept, the wide-awake 9-year-old shared some words with the would-be kidnapper. Undeterred, the man escaped out of a window with Elizabeth in tow. After which, Mary Katherine did what any other kid would do when a stranger breaks into your bedroom, threatens your life and abducts your big sister. She went back to sleep. The next day, Mary Katherine slowly confessed to her parents that a man with a knife, or maybe a gun, snatched Elizabeth in the middle of the night. A swift police investigation revealed few clues, the most notable being a cut in Elizabeth’s bedroom window screen which, according to police, likely came from the inside. Ed Smart, Elizabeth’s father, insisted the cut came from the outside. And he should know. He’s a doctor. The youngster was having difficulty identifying the intruder, until her father guided her figuratively outstretched finger toward Richard Ricci, a former handyman for the Smart family with a long criminal history. Ricci was arrested but never charged with the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart. While serving time on an unrelated matter, Ricci suffered a stroke and died. Twelve weeks after the death of sole-suspect Richard Ricci, and five full months following Elizabeth’s disappearance, Ed Smart reported that his baby daughter’s memory was improving. Lo and behold, she had identified a new suspect. Now that’s a miracle. And, as luck would have it, this suspect was still breathing. Brian Mitchell and his wife, the two toga-wearing, proselytizing, ex-Mormon drifters with Elizabeth at the time she was discovered by police, were taken into custody and charged in connection with the kidnapping. If we are to believe the pictures circulating around town, Elizabeth didn’t let a little thing like being abducted deter her from getting on the guest list of a few local house parties. Over the course of nine months, she had plenty of chances to escape, but, instead, stayed. These matters beg the question: Was Elizabeth Smart kidnapped? Or did she run away? Like it or not, Elizabeth Smart is a walking, talking crime scene. If Utah police wish to determine exactly what crimes have been committed against this young woman, and ultimately prove who committed them, they need to handle Elizabeth as they would any other piece of precious evidence; not with kid gloves, but with latex ones. Permitting Elizabeth’s family to intercept their daughter may have tainted evidence, the same way a careless cop’s fingerprints contaminate a crime scene. Instead of whisking her home for an evening of “Chopsticks” concertos and board games, Elizabeth should have been strapped to a gurney and examined head to toe before being reunited with her family. Whether she’s been brainwashed, beaten or beamed-up are determinations better left to the experts. Sadly, the Smarts are openly opposed to having the defendants charged with what would be the most vile offense against their daughter — sexual assault. Their reason, so they say, is to avoid further “traumatizing” Elizabeth. A statement by one of Elizabeth’s uncles led me to believe that perhaps the family is reluctant to learn the truth; he said, “Elizabeth is still pure in the eyes of God.” It’s no secret the family, like much of Utah, is devoutly Mormon. I shudder to think the Smarts would forgo prosecution on the most serious — and perhaps only — crime against their daughter for fear of being frowned upon by the Mormon Church. Last time I checked, separation of church and state worked both ways. While God has a place in almost any court of law — “so help me, God” — he doesn’t have much of a say in how a criminal case is prosecuted. Nor should he. Not even in Utah. Jonna M. Spilbor is a New York-based criminal defense lawyer, columnist and guest commentator on Court TV.

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