News / Utah / 

Mitchell's family, friend take the stand



Show 2 more videos

This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.

SALT LAKE CITY — Brian David Mitchell's disturbed childhood years through his tumultuous second marriage received much of the attention Wednesday during the trial of the man accused of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart.

But several of the people subpoenaed to testify as defense witnesses only seemed to provide additional evidence for the prosecution.

Seven witnesses were called to the stand Wednesday, including Mitchell's parents, Shirl and Irene Mitchell, and two of his sisters.

Family testifies

The elderly father of the man accused of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart told jurors Wednesday that his son had a troubled childhood, marked by battles with family members and repeated episodes of getting himself into trouble.

A gray-haired, gray-bearded Shirl Mitchell slowly made his way to the witness stand Wednesday morning with the help of a walker. Attorneys waited to ask him questions until his hearing aid was put into place.

His testimony drifted and seemed odd at times. The elder Mitchell expressed regret for things that happened between him and his son while he was growing up.

During his 40-minute direct testimony, he talked about several times when his son — Brian David Mitchell — got into trouble as a youth, including numerous confrontations with his mother and younger sister.

"It was a whole series of what I like to refer to as alienation incidents," he said.

One time, when Brian was either 10 or 11, he got into an argument while Shirl Mitchell was driving. When he reached a stop sign, he said his son jumped out and ran off. It took about 10 to 20 minutes to get him back into the car, he said.

"He was always teasing, creating turmoil in the family — teasing, pushing his minor siblings," Shirl Mitchell testified.

He also described a morning when he lost patience with his son, who was 9 or 10 at the time. He said he drove his son to an unspecified location, dropped him off and told him to find his own way home.

Brian went to an area in Salt Lake City near the Capitol, where he stayed and just waited.

"He's smart," Shirl Mitchell said. "He said, ‘I'm going to make them worry about me. I'm going to stay away all day.'"

When Brian was 8 or 9, he got into trouble for playing doctor with a neighbor kid. Shirl Mitchell said he decided to teach him a lesson and showed him a book with detailed photos of male and female genitalia, which he said he later regretted doing.

When Brian was 16, he and his mother, Irene Mitchell, came to blows and Brian was sent away to live with his grandmother for a while. At that time, Shirl Mitchell said his son had transferred to East High School, where he took advantage of the school's lax attendance policy.

"Brian is a very intelligent person. He used that to his full extent in his harassment of other children and my wife," Mitchell said.

He said his son, who was 16, was sent to juvenile court after exposing himself to a neighbor child who was 3 or 4.

He thinks Brian's childhood has something to do with his name change and preaching ways.

"That's just a compensation for all the isolation and alienation he's experienced. That's just a natural result," Shirl Mitchell said.

Mitchell's elderly mother said her son was a "darling boy," but she doesn't recognize any trace of that person now.

Irene Mitchell told jurors that her son's actions have caused her a lot of pain. She described the relationship with her son as a teen as troubling.

Irene, who suffers from memory loss, couldn't answer a lot of the attorneys' questions, but she said she filed a restraining order against Brian, when he got aggressive with her.

Mitchell's younger sister Lisa Holbrook also took the stand. She didn't remember when, but says she called police after Smart was kidnapped. After hearing a description of the handy man who worked on the Smart's home, she says she knew it was her brother.

It was in his marriage to Wanda Barzee, Holbrook testified, that he started donning robes and answering to "David" and "Immanuel."

There's a history of mental illness in the family. Brian Mitchell's grandfather was diagnosed with a mental illness and ended up in the Utah State Hospital. Mitchell's father also hopes his son will get help.

"I'm hoping that he'll go to a rehabilitative situation where they'll recognize he's not normal, not sound," Shirl Mitchell said.

Mitchell's friend, Marlon Peterson, said the drastic changes he sees in him is tragic.

"It doesn't make anybody happy that he changed from one heck of a good guy to who he is now," he said.

Peterson met Mitchell in 1975 and they became good friends. He said they had a lot of good times together and that Mitchell was a good guy. Peterson doesn't think his old friend is insane.

"We used to have a role playing game, acting out things, and Brian was quite an actor," he said.

Testimony of advocate for the homeless

Pamela Atkinson, an well-known advocate for the homeless and poor, testified Wednesday that Brian Mitchell and his wife Wanda Barzee used to come to the Salvation Army in the late 1990s. She said Brian Mitchell would never shake her hand or talk to her.

Others there who were homeless generally stayed away from the couple because they considered them extreme and were afraid Mitchell would preach to them.

A defense attorney asked Atkinson if she ever thought he was mentally ill. She said that while she doesn't have expertise to make such a conclusion, "At first I wondered, then I decided I was just observing this religious eccentric."

Wanda Barzee prepared to testify

Wanda Barzee is back in Utah and could testify as early as today as a defense witness in the trial of her estranged husband, Brian David Mitchell, accused of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart.

Barzee, who struck a plea deal in both her state and federal cases after she was found competent to stand trial following years of treatment at the Utah State Hospital, was sentenced earlier this year to federal prison in Ft. Worth, Texas.

As part of her plea deal, she was to cooperate with the U.S. Government in its prosecution of Mitchell. Her testifying as a defense witness was not expected to affect that deal as defense attorneys are allowed to subpoena whoever they'd like to the witness stand.

A court order was originally filed to have Barzee transported on Dec. 1. Attorneys for both sides, however, seem to be getting through witnesses' testimonies quicker than anticipated. U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball had to excuse court for the day 45-minutes early on Tuesday because the defense had finished calling all its anticipated witnesses for that day and didn't have anyone else in the building they could call.

Barzee was booked into the Davis County Jail Tuesday where she will be held until she testifies and is then transported back to Texas.

Wednesday is day seven of the trial since opening arguments were delivered. The prosecution rested its case Tuesday.

The defense is trying to show the jury what Mitchell has been like his entire life in their attempt for an insanity defense.

Smart, who finished her three days of testimony last week, has been in the courtroom each day, sitting in the gallery as an observer with her parents, Ed and Lois Smart.

------

Compiled with contributions from Pat Reavy , Andrew Adams and Sandra Yi.

Related Links

Related Stories

KSL.com

    SIGN UP FOR THE KSL.COM NEWSLETTER

    Catch up on the top news and features from KSL.com, sent weekly.
    By subscribing, you acknowledge and agree to KSL.com's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

    KSL Weather Forecast