SALT LAKE CITY — Brian David Mitchell professes to be a prophet. Called from on high as "the one mighty and strong" to be the Lord's servant in the last days.
But amid the Christmas carols and church hymns he sings daily during his trial, you won't often hear Mitchell singing the words "Christ" or "God."
Mitchell's steady, but weak voice permeates the courtroom morning after morning as he stands trial for the 2002 kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart. The songs, which changed to Christmas carols in mid-November, have become a Mitchell trademark coupled with his long hair and beard. He is routinely removed from the courtroom after he is advised he will have to leave if he persists in singing.
He has been dismissed every day of his trial and during nearly every other court hearing.
On Wednesday, Mitchell started in on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," but immediately omitted the word "Christmas," substituting with what sounded like "summer." Later, he skipped over "Christendom" and when he came to the line "God is not dead, nor doth he sleep," Mitchell instead sang: "Hell is not dead, nor doth it sleep."
When Mitchell followed with the song "What Child Is This?" he left out "Christ" during the refrain "This, this is Christ the King."
He doesn't pause where the word should be, he just fills the space with indecipherable alternatives.
Smart testified earlier during the trial that Mitchell believed he was "the Lord's servant in the last days" and that the Lord had guided him in the kidnapping of Smart. Mitchell consistently identified himself as a traveling preacher. Smart and Mitchell's estranged wife and co-defendant, Wanda Barzee, both testified that Mitchell said he spent his days ministering, but that often translated to panhandling.
While he avoids the word "Christ," Mitchell doesn't shy away from "Lord." In a rendition of "Joy to the World" in court on Thursday, Mitchell sang "The Lord is come" more than once. He then started in on "O Come All Ye Faithful" and in the refrain that closes every verse, he replaced "Christ," but finished with "the Lord." There are other references to Jesus Christ he doesn't avoid at all.
"King of Israel." "Son of the Father."
Mitchell routinely enters the courtroom singing each morning. His eyes are closed and his hands clasped before him like he is in the middle of praying. He sits at the defense table, stopping only occasionally when he goes to select the next song. Sometimes he stumbles on the words. But he continues until the judge orders him to be removed to a nearby annex where he can see and hear the court proceedings, his voice drifting back as he leaves.
Mitchell reportedly never sings once he has been seated in the annex.
As he left the courtroom Thursday, he was singing "Angels We Have Heard on High" and opted not to sing the chorus of "Gloria, in excelsis deo," Latin for "glory to God in the highest."
"Gloria, most excellent (indecipherable)," he sang.
During non-holiday months, he tends to favor LDS hymns typically sung in sacrament meetings. A favorite of the trial thus far has been "O Savior, Thou Who Wearest a Crown," which is set to a tune written in the late 16th Century.
"The soldiers mock and flail thee;
For drink they give thee gall;
Upon the cross they nail thee
To die, O King of all.
"Tho craven friends betray thee,
They feel thy love's embrace;
The very foes who slay thee
Have access to thy grace."