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City to scrutinize police in Smart case

March 17, 2003 at 7:58 PM   |   Comments

SALT LAKE CITY, March 17 (UPI) -- A civilian task force was created Monday to examine the police investigation into the alleged kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart, who was found last week in the company of a wandering street preacher who had not even been a major figure in the case until some five months after Elizabeth disappeared.

Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson said Monday that the task force is made up of attorneys and judges and will begin its investigation into the police protocol once the pending criminal case against alleged kidnapper Brian David Mitchell is settled in court.

"Now that Elizabeth is home, we want to make certain that any significant questions raised regarding the investigation into her disappearance are answered," Anderson said in a release. "Some of those questions deal primarily with the focus by some investigators on Richard Ricci and the level of attention by investigators in relation to Brian David Mitchell."

Salt Lake City detectives and police department brass came under some nagging public criticism last summer when it appeared they were leaning solely on Ricci, an ex-convict and former handyman who had worked at the Smart's suburban home prior to Elizabeth's disappearance.

Critics had questioned the level of attention paid to Ricci, who died while in custody on a parole violation last summer. He had been the primary focus of the probe despite a lack of physical evidence against him and an alibi provided by his wife, Angela.

Police also came under criticism because they did not release a sketch of Mitchell until last month even though Elizabeth's sister, Mary Katherine, had told her family in October that the intruder she had seen take Elizabeth on the night of June 5 could have been the handyman known only as "Emmanuel."

Police Chief Rick Dinse told reporters last week that they had not been able to create an accurate sketch of Emmanuel and had been reluctant to release a faulty description to the public out of fear of creating a flood of useless tips from well-meaning callers. He also said that half of his investigators were assigned to Ricci while the other half investigated other leads, including Mitchell.

As a result, Mitchell was largely unknown when he was arrested last Wednesday in the company of Elizabeth and 57-year-old Wanda Barzee.

Anderson said the five-member Independent Review Commission was not formed specifically to look at the Smart investigation and would also review the unsolved homicides of three women.

"The formation of this commission should not be taken as an implication that anything inappropriate occurred," Anderson stated. "Rather, it is a means of shedding light, by means of a fair and objective review, on important questions that have been raised and of learning from any mistakes that may have been made."

In the meantime, Mitchell and Barzee had been expected to be formally charged Monday; however, a scheduled news conference by prosecutors was canceled and charges were postponed until Tuesday or Wednesday.

Salt Lake County sheriff's investigators said late last week that they were investigating the possibility that Mitchell had been behind the attempted break-in at the home of one of Elizabeth's cousins just two weeks after Elizabeth disappeared.

Police also have the enormous task of finding evidence that links Mitchell to Elizabeth, such as fingerprints in the Smart home and at the various campsites where the trio lived after June 5. Failing to find such forensic evidence could allow Mitchell's lawyer to claim Elizabeth had run away and joined up with Mitchell and Barzee on her own, authorities have said.

Questions quickly arose last week after Elizabeth appeared to be willingly wandering the streets with Mitchell and Barzee. She and Barzee wore identical robes and veils when they were stopped on a street in Sandy, just 13 miles from the Smart home, and Elizabeth misidentified herself initially to police when asked her name.

In addition, Mitchell's lawyer Sunday confirmed that Mitchell had said he had been told by God to marry seven women. Elizabeth was allegedly the first of those wives, although there was no evidence of any formal marriages.

A check of Montana marriage records by United Press International Monday turned up no evidence that either Mitchell or Elizabeth had been named on a marriage license. The FBI had earlier executed a search warrant on an unknown location in Montana even though there was no indication the suspects had taken Elizabeth to the state.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth's relatives said Monday that the 15-year-old remained in good spirits and good physical shape while remaining in seclusion. Her uncle, David Smart, told reporters that a rumor going around town that Elizabeth was pregnant was untrue.

"That is not true," Smart said. "She hasn't been and she isn't (pregnant)."

(Reported by Hil Anderson in Los Angeles)

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