SALT LAKE CITY – Eight years after he’s accused of slicing through a kitchen window screen with a knife and whisking away a 14-year-old girl in the middle of the night, the man charged in the abduction of Elizabeth Smart is headed to trial in federal court.

Jury selection in the trial of Brian David Mitchell is scheduled to begin today in Salt Lake City’s U.S. District Court.

After years of delays driven by questions about Mitchell’s mental health and a jump from state to federal court, the trial of the one-time itinerant street preacher should finally bring Smart’s saga to a close. Hers is a tale of loss, a family’s fears and an improbable recovery that has long riveted the nation.

“It’s certainly been a long time coming,” Ed Smart, Elizabeth’s father, said Thursday. “We’re very confident in the prosecution.”

Mitchell, 57, was indicted in March 2008 on federal charges of kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor across state lines — for allegedly taking Smart to San Diego. If convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in a federal prison.

A 2003 state case — in which Mitchell was charged with aggravated kidnapping and aggravated sexual assault — stalled after Mitchell was diagnosed with a delusional disorder and deemed incompetent to stand trial. A state judge rejected a request to force Mitchell to be treated with medications, saying she didn’t believe the drugs would work.

The ruling left Mitchell incarcerated in the state hospital — where he had refused treatment — before federal prosecutors stepped in to take a run at the case.

Mitchell was judged competent to stand trial in federal court earlier this year after an expert witness for the government said he believed Mitchell was “malingering,” essentially faking a mental illness to avoid prosecution.

With prosecutors expected to call as many as 22 witnesses, the trial could take up to six weeks. Just picking a jury could take several weeks. Defense attorneys have argued that publicity of the case has tainted the pool of more than 200 jurors called for consideration, but efforts to move the trial out of Utah were rejected by both U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

Mitchell’s federal public defenders maintain that he is ill and unable to participate in his own defense. In court papers, defense attorneys have said they’ll mount an insanity defense, claiming Mitchell was so impaired at the time of the alleged crime that he can’t be held legally responsible.

As evidence, the defense is expected to rely on testimony from mental health experts who have evaluated Mitchell and will likely point to a 27-page manifesto drafted by Mitchell — “The Book of Immanuel David Isaiah” — as evidence of his delusions.

In Smart’s first public testimony during a competency hearing last year, she said after being led from home in her pajamas and tennis shoes to a mountainside campsite, she was forced to become Mitchell’s second wife in a religious ceremony and raped. During her captivity, Smart said Mitchell read frequently from his manifesto, sang hymns and laced his daily conversations with religious language.

Smart said she believed Mitchell’s religious devotions were a ruse. Religious revelations came conveniently when he wanted something or when he was trying to calm his wife, Wanda Eileen Barzee, she said.