Strategy in Mitchell case centers on mental state

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Both sides in the Brian David Mitchell kidnapping case have already spelled out their strategy to the jury. It's a case that will revolve around Mitchell's mental state during the nine-month kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart.


In one respect the jury has it easy. The major facts of the case are not in dispute. The hard part for the jury will be understanding the mind of the defendant.

No one disputes that Brian David Mitchell kidnapped and repeatedly raped Elizabeth Smart. So the burden of proof falls on the defendant's side to convince the jury he was insane, so crazy he should be found "not guilty" or "guilty but insane."

In his opening statement, defense attorney Parker Douglas described bizarre beliefs and behavior dating from Mitchell's early teen years. It seems to have run in the family. Mitchell's grandfather was institutionalized as a paranoid schizophrenic; his father was obsessed with religious ideas and considered himself a prophet.

As Mitchell's own beliefs grew more and more extreme, he claimed revelations and a "calling" to restore plural marriage. Supposedly acting for God, "yelling hellfire and damnation," he would sing to drown out co-workers.

But prosecutor Felice Viti last week emphasized Mitchell's crafty, calculating nature helped him to commit crimes and maneuver to avoid arrest.

"Time after time, the defendant would successfully manipulate the people he encountered -- especially through the use of religion, in very subtle ways -- to obtain what he wanted," Viti told the jury.

Former federal judge Paul Cassell predicts an uphill battle for the defense.

"Just given the length of time that Mitchell was able to keep Elizabeth Smart under his control," he says, "that suggests someone who knew what he was doing and someone who had the ability to manipulate and control situations."

In order to find in Mitchell's favor, the jury has to hear clear and convincing evidence that Mitchell did not know what he was doing was wrong.

"If the jury's on the fence about whether Mitchell is insane or not, they have to convict in this case," Cassell says.

Cassell predicts a battle of experts, psychiatrists and others, who will testify about their informed opinions. But ultimately, he says it's up to the jury and their common sense to determine the truth about Brian David Mitchell.


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John Hollenhorst


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