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Ed Smart Says Mitchell is 'Crazy Like a Fox'

Ed Smart Says Mitchell is 'Crazy Like a Fox'


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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah teenager Elizabeth Smart's accused kidnapper just can't stand to be in a courtroom.

When he's not breaking into song, Brian David Mitchell is shouting at the judge to "repent, for the kingdom of Heaven's at hand." His outbursts have gotten the 51-year-old street preacher booted from each of his six court appearances since December.

Judge Judith Atherton is refusing to let the disruptions or Mitchell's refusal to speak with psychoanalysts stop the drawn-out proceedings to determine his mental competency to stand trial.

But if he's judged competent, and having refused plea negotiations, it's hard to see Mitchell keeping his mouth shut long enough to get through a trial. In court papers his lawyers say he's determined to mock court proceedings, draw a conviction and maximum penalty, become a martyr and wait for the Lord to set him free.

The judge could order the defendant gagged at the defense table, but that would be an extreme measure.

He may be "crazy like a fox," said Ed Smart, but Elizabeth's father isn't fooled by the former street preacher's antics. "I think it's a show. He wants to upstage everyone."

His erratic behavior doesn't make him crazy in a strictly legal sense, but Atherton is giving Mitchell every benefit of the doubt, ordering another round of hearings for July 7-8. The judge is "going the extra mile," Elizabeth's father said. "She doesn't want to see this case ever come up for a mistrial."

Mitchell's wife, Wanda Barzee, who is divorcing him, has been judged incompetent to stand trial.

The Smart family would rather avoid trial to keep Elizabeth from having to testify, but her father says he prefers the closure of a conviction instead of an indefinite stay in a mental hospital.

Mitchell is accused of abducting, sexually assaulting and keeping 14-year-old Elizabeth as his second wife at seasonal camps from the Wasatch foothills above her house to rural San Diego County, where a different Mitchell gave a more humble performance in another court.

Jailed for six days for breaking into a Lakeside, Calif., church to sleep off an alcohol-induced stupor, Mitchell called it "the worst night and worst week of my whole life." Speaking via closed-circuit television just before his release on probation for vandalism, Mitchell swore to a judge he didn't often get drunk.

"I'm deeply sorry, and nothing like that's every going to happen again, I can assure you," he said.

Mitchell had been stipulated competent last October when his lawyers, in a tactical move to avoid airing sensitive information, waived hearings the Utah media fought to keep open. But Mitchell's state of mind later took a turn for the worse, said lawyers who asked Atherton to reopen the matter.

It's taken nearly a year for experts to plumb Mitchell's mind, relying mostly on interviews with family and friends and accounts of a troubled childhood and failed marriages. No one connected to the case is willing to say the July 7-8 hearings will be the end of it.

The defense plans to bring back University of California-Irvine assistant professor Jennifer Skeem to rebut prosecution testimony that Mitchell is just a man of extreme religious beliefs who showed no sign of having an organic brain disease, the strict measure of incompetence under Utah law.

Skeem, the only expert able to draw Mitchell out for any kind of meaningful conversation before he shut down, has testified Mitchell fervently believes he'll be held in jail for seven years until a day of judgment, then rescued by God and reunited with Barzee and Elizabeth, who at 17 just finished her junior year in high school.

Skeem diagnosed Mitchell with delusional disorder, adding that he refuses to answer to anyone of ordinary authority and yearns to be "crucified" at trial. She said he began to withdraw after tough negotiations with prosecutors for an Alford plea, under which Mitchell would allow a conviction without admitting guilt. Mitchell ended negotiations believing prosecutors were in a league with Satan.

"From our position, there's adequate evidence he's competent and the burden is on the defense to show he's not competent," said District Attorney David Yocom, who doubted Mitchell's courtroom antics would figure into the judge's decision.

Yocom said Mitchell's case has dragged longer than any other, except for death penalty cases, in his 14 years as district attorney. The case hasn't even come up for pretrial motions, more than two years after Mitchell's return to Utah brought his arrest and Elizabeth's safe capture.

"We tried to move the case along as quickly as we can, but there's a lot of factors that we have no control of," Yocom said.

Defense lawyers, who refused to speak on the record for this story, have all but given up hope of cooperation from Mitchell. During the most recent hearings May 24-25, they told the judge they didn't even try consulting Mitchell in a holding cell during court breaks.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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