DOCUMENT: Crime

Teen's Abductor Slipped Through Police Hands

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Teen's Abductor Slipped Through Police Hands

MARCH 13--Brian David Mitchell, the vagrant suspected in the kidnapping of Utah teenager Elizabeth Smart, spent a week in a San Diego jail last month on a vandalism charge, but Salt Lake City cops probing the abduction and searching for Mitchell did not learn of the bust until after Mitchell's arrest yesterday. According to a court complaint (which you'll find below) and police records, Mitchell--booked under the alias Michael Jenson--was nabbed February 12 for burglarizing a church. Mitchell was held in a local lockup until February 18, when he was released after entering a guilty plea to a reduced misdemeanor charge of vandalism. Mitchell--who gave San Diego cops a birth date of October 17, 1954--was fined $150 and sentenced to three years probation. Remarkably, Mitchell was sitting in a California prison cell on February 15 when "America's Most Wanted" first broadcast his name (along with a color photograph and a previously distributed composite sketch) as a suspect in the Smart abduction. It appears that Mitchell was able to slip through law enforcement's fingers because, when arrested in mid-February, he gave cops the phony "Michael Jenson" name and, since he had apparently not been previously fingerprinted, a check with the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and California's automated fingerprint system turned up nothing, said Chris Saunders, a spokesperson for the San Diego Sheriff's Office. In addition, the birth date he gave California officials was slightly different from his real one, October 18, 1953. It wasn't until March 1--after Mitchell's release from the California lockup--that Salt Lake City cops sent out a nationwide bulletin via NCIC noting their interest in Mitchell in connection with the Smart disappearance. But even at that point, San Diego cops would have been unaware that the drifter they had jailed as "Michael Jenson" was, in fact, Mitchell. That connection was not made by law enforcement officials until after Mitchell's arrest yesterday, when mug shots and fingerprints from the two arrests could be compared. (2 pages)

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