An interrogator in Elizabeth Smart case reflects on interview 20 years later

Mar 13, 2023, 4:00 PM | Updated: 4:06 pm

Caption:  Brian David Mitchell poses for his police booking mug Wednesday, March 12, 2003, in Salt ...

Caption: Brian David Mitchell poses for his police booking mug Wednesday, March 12, 2003, in Salt Lake City. Mitchell was arrested for aggravated kidnapping in the Elizabeth Smart case. The teen was taken from her home last June. She was found alive and well earlier in the day. He is also being held on a retail theft charge. (AP Photo/Salt Lake County Sheriff)

(AP Photo/Salt Lake County Sheriff)

SALT LAKE CITY — “You tell me the truth, how did Elizabeth wind up with you? Tell me the truth right now!” With that, FBI Special Agent Jeff Ross began his 2003 interrogation of Brian David Mitchell, the man who would eventually be tried and found guilty of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart.

His answer?  “By the power of God, she was delivered to us.”

This week marks the 20th year since Smart was discovered walking the streets of Sandy, Utah with two other people. Ross spoke with KSL NewsRadio about his time with Mitchell.

Ross said that as the interview began, Mitchell seemed comfortable. But Ross was not. “I don’t like to interview people like that,” he said. 

Mitchell reminded Ross of some of the people he’d worked with previously, when he worked at a mental hospital. Specifically, he reminded Ross of those who were “faking it.”

“Within minutes of interacting with this guy, I thought it was a charade,” Ross said. “He’s manipulating the situation … I certainly don’t believe that he really thinks he’s a prophet.”

Mitchell was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but stopped going to church, proclaimed himself a prophet in the mid 1990s, and changed his name to Emmanuel David Isaiah.

Ross said that the investigators kept watching, and waiting, for Mitchell to admit to kidnapping and sexually assaulting Elizabeth Smart. But he didn’t.

“He didn’t break or become physically aggressive, he didn’t end the interview, he didn’t break down and start crying,” Ross said. 

But that cool head would come back to haunt him, Ross said. 

“One of the things I think I’m proudest of, in regards to that interview … [federal prosecutors] used that interview to show, on Brian’s part, he was incredibly controlled, he knew exactly what he was doing when he was manipulating the entire situation.

“Because if he were truly mentally ill and incompetent to stand trial, he would have lost it during that interview … they used that to show, to find him competent and eventually put him on trial and send him to prison for the rest of his life. 

And though Ross said that Mitchell never admitted what he’d done, he didn’t have to. By acknowledging that Elizabeth was “delivered to him” by God, and that God “provided for them” as Mitchell, his wife Wanda Barzee, and Elizabeth traveled to California, and by saying that he and Elizabeth were “sealed in marriage,” he was admitting that he was with Smart.

Wanda Barzee eventually pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 15 years in state and federal prison. She was released in 2018.

Brian David Mitchell is currently in the United States Penitentiary, Terre Haute, a high-security, federal prison in Indiana. He is serving a life sentence for the abduction and rape of Elizabeth Smart in 2002.  

Listen to the discussion with Agent Jeff Ross.


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An interrogator in Elizabeth Smart case reflects on interview 20 years later