Jury in Brian David Mitchell case breaks for the night

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SALT LAKE CITY — Jurors in the trial of Brian David Mitchell have finished for the night and will continue deliberating at 8:30 Friday morning.

They deliberated about three hours Thursday night. All 12 jurors must unanimously agree on a verdict, and they have three options. They can find Mitchell guilty of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart, not guilty, or not guilty by reason of insanity. To reach an insanity verdict, the jury must believe Mitchell was so severely mentally ill that he did not understand what he was doing and that what he was doing was wrong.

Thursday afternoon, defense attorney Bob Steele said Mitchell is indifferent and believes he will be convicted. Another defense attorney said Mitchell is resigned to whatever the Lord ordains for him.


Steele said, "I think it's a big, sprawling, ugly case. I think it's a hard one to do. I have a good team and they did a good job. I think we did better than I imagined that we would do."

Prosecution's closing arguments

Prosecutor Diana Hagen began closing arguments late Thursday by establishing various elements of the crimes of which Mitchell is accused, the first being that he kidnapped Elizabeth Smart.

"This was a girl who spent her days studying, playing the harp, being with her family; a shy, modest girl who pinned the neck of her pajamas shut with a safety pin," Hagen said. "She was ripped away from this tranquil childhood by Brian David Mitchell, who forced her from her home at knifepoint and stripped her of her clothes, her identity and her innocence."

Hagen said Mitchell took Smart to an isolated place where he could show her that "no matter how much she screamed," there was nothing she could do.

Hagen then outlined the second charge, which alleges that Mitchell transported Smart to California to sexually assault her. She said Mitchell made Smart his "sexual plaything," reminding the jurors that Smart testified she was sometimes raped multiple times a day.

Hagen went on to give the jury three reasons why prosecutors don't believe Mitchell is insane: his delusions are not fixed or sincerely held; his religious ideas have a cultural explanation — they came from LDS culture, not out of thin air — and there is no evidence to support a dramatic decline in Mitchell's condition, which is characteristic of a mental illness.

"The defendant does not have fixed beliefs he holds tenaciously. He has convenient beliefs that are only manifest when it's convenient," Hagen said.

She pointed out that Mitchell would deny he is a prophet and stop preaching when he ran into trouble with the law.

"Brian David Mitchell is a good actor. He can switch in and out of character at will," Hagen said. "He is a predatory chameleon with a cunning to adapt his behavior to serve his needs."

Hagen closed her argument by saying Mitchell knew "exactly what he was doing." She said the fact that Mitchell tried so hard to hide Smart was evidence of that fact.

"He can choose to conform to the law," she said. "To not take a child from her home, keep her bound like an animal, rob her of her dignity, her identity and her childhood. He chose to take these things from her not because God wanted him to, but because he wanted to."

Hagen asked the jury to find Mitchell guilty on both counts.

Defense's closing arguments

In defense attorney Robert Steele's closing argument, he conceded that Mitchell does have personality disorders such as narcissism and anti-social personality issues, but said he can still suffer from a mental illness, such as paranoid schizophrenia or delusional disorder.

He reminded the jurors that it is "not 'not guilty,' but 'not guilty by reason of insanity.'"

"(Mitchell) is not a spiritual person," Steele said. "He is not filled up with God and I wouldn't expect him to do good things. I wouldn't expect him to use money to help the poor. He is not a genuinely religious person from our perspective and what our case has been is (that) he is mentally ill."

He said one couldn't distinguish cleanly between Mitchell's mental illnesses and his personality disorders. It's all "wrapped together," Steele said.

He cited numerous examples of Mitchell's abnormal, anti-social behavior, including leaving a mouse on the stove and feeding his stepdaughter her pet rabbit.

He then said delusional disorder typically doesn't "blossom" until later, when a person is 30 to 40, which would be the early 1990s in Mitchell's case.

"Brian has had mostly failures and this growing feeling that he is somebody very important but it's clear he has this feeling," Steele said. "It doesn't measure up with his life. It doesn't measure up with his circumstances, it doesn't measure up with anything."

After not being able to talk any adult women into becoming his polygamous wife, Mitchell had a revelation about 10- to 14-year-old girls, Steele said.

"It's a horrific revelation," he said. "It dovetails with his pedophilia."

Shortly thereafter, he met Elizabeth Smart with part of her family in downtown Salt Lake City. He went to work as a handyman at the Smart's house not to work, but to scope it out. To Mitchell's surprise, the house was near the bottom of the canyon where he had his camp, Steele said.

Steele said an antisocial type would have said, "Aha, this is going to be easy." A delusion person says, "God is telling you something: This is the one."

About that time in 2002, Mitchell wrote the Book of Immanuel David Isaiah, but no one would read it. "He's shouting 'repent' in the streets. He's getting angry. He's getting turned down."

His mother obtained a protective order against him. Mitchell and his wife Wanda Barzee then packed up everything they could carry and left. He also received an notice of ex-communication proceedings from the LDS Church.

"He gets incredibly angry about that," Steele said.

On June 4, Mitchell and Barzee argued at the camp. Barzee testified that Mitchell was consumed with fear and doubt and questioned whether he should kidnap Elizabeth Smart.

Wanda told him, "If God opens the way, you will do it. If not, you won't."

"It is being pitched to you that he is incredibly clever. I think there is incredible luck. I think he's a good survivor. He has some skills," Steele said.

Steele then concluded, reminding the jury that they didn't have to find that Mitchell was a good person, only to find that he was not guilty by reason of insanity.

Prosecution's closing rebuttal

Prosecutor Felice Viti started his closing rebuttal by taking juror through highlights of many of the witnesses' testimony during the month-long trial.

"Let's think of each witnesses' testimony as a snapshot.

Or better yet, as a frame, the frame of a movie," he said.

Viti said that would give jurors an understanding of who Mitchell was and who he is.

"The personality traits of his life have remained largely consistent," he said.

Mitchell, he said, has attempted to show he is insane. "The evidence shows he is not."

Even at a young age, Mitchell found a way to turn things to his advantage.

When his father dropped him off downtown as punishment and told to him find his own way home, Mitchell went to the state Capitol and made some money by taking pictures for some tourists. He then used the money to go to a movie. He wanted his family to worry about where he was.

"He punished those who dare punish him," Viti said. A psychologist testified that Mitchell showed cruel and sadistic treatment of his mother and other children. He told people he could push his mother down the stairs to kill her and it would look like an accident.

"He lacked empathy, guilt or remorse," Viti said. Mitchell once sent his Mother Irene a letter informing her of his new look.

"As you know I like acting. My hair and beard are part of my new act," Viti quoted from the letter. Mitchell was such an excellent manipulator that he could manipulate psychologists, he said.

After divorcing his first wife, Mitchell kept her from gaining custody of their children and had them adopted by another family.

The prosecutors asked jurors to recall Tom McKnight's testimony about his association with Mitchell and Barzee in a small Idaho town where the couple lived in a fifth-wheel trailer.

"He was more the hammer. She was more the anvil," McKnight had testified.

Viti said Mitchell was adept at manipulating his environment and those around him. He said Mitchell would use his revelations conveniently and deliberately to get what he wanted. Mitchell's behavior when he was younger was "foreshadowing" of his behavior later in life.

He reminded jurors how prosecution witnesses explained how Mitchell could go in and out of character and use a prophet persona when cornered.

"He would engage when he wanted something," Viti said, citing various witness testimonies.

He pointed out that Mitchell sings at the threshold of the courtroom door and stops singing when he leaves the courtroom.

"Why the difference?" Viti asked. "It's because you the jury aren't here when he comes in … he wants to make sure you hear him sing even when he crosses through that door. That's how subtle, that's how nuanced he is."

He said that religion is a "nuclear weapon" in Mitchell's hands. He uses it to his advantage and will use it to deceive mental health professionals.

He also used religion and specifically, revelation, to get what he wanted. "A revelation a day kept Wanda away," Viti said. Mitchell's motive was lust and the only ritual he practiced was rape.

"Brian David Mitchell is nothing more than a sadist, a pedophile, a narcissist hidden beneath the robes of a self proclaimed prophet, using his religion when it suits his needs," Viti said.

End of expert testimony

Defense attorneys began the day continuing to pick apart the testimony of forensic psychiatrist Dr. Michael Welner, who remained clear in his opinion of Mitchell.

"Lust trumps religion for Brian Mitchell," he said. "It demonstrates how dominant his libido is to his life." The prosecution rested its case against the man accused of kidnapping and raping Elizabeth Smart with Welner as its final rebuttal witness. The defense then called Dr. Stephen Golding as a rebuttal witness and the battle of expert witnesses continued.

Golding, a forensic psychologist and emeritus professor at the University of Utah, immediately began disputing several point by point arguments made earlier by the prosecution's expert witnesses.

For example, Welner testified Wednesday that Mitchell does not suffer from a mental illness such as delusions — as previous defense experts have said — but is actually a pedophile who has anti-social personality disorder and a narcissistic personality.

Welner, a New York-based forensic psychiatrist, earlier testified about studies that indicate being a pedophile and having a psychotic disorder are exclusive of each other. In most cases, a person could have one by not the other.

Golding, however, said the study Welner used doesn't have enough scientific backing to be considered true.

Both Welner and Dr. Noel Gardner, who is the director of South Valley Mental Health, testified for the prosecution that they don't believe Mitchell is sincere in his religious beliefs. Golding, however, said the strength of a delusion can wax and wane. He said you have to step back and look back over a person's entire history in order to determine someone's religious sincerity.

Referring to a staring competition Gardner said he had with Mitchell while trying to interview him, Golding disagreed with Gardner's conclusion that Mitchell's "intense, deep" stare proved helpful in his diagnosis because it is impossible for most delusional patients to maintain that kind of eye contact. Golding said Gardner's conclusion is contradicted by other research.

Welner testified that Mitchell learned how to play competitive chess while in the Utah State Hospital and said it's not possible for a person with paranoid schizophrenia to learn such a skill. Golding disagreed, saying, "It's a stereotype about mental illness. It is simply wrong."

Defense attorneys had earlier attempted to disprove Welner's theories through their line of questioning, pointing out that Mitchell also had relationships with adult women and that he only became involved with LDS women supported their belief that he has religious delusions. When Welner said it was no different than some fundamental Mormon groups that marry off girls at ages 14 and 15, defense attorneys countered by asking Welner whether those individuals are pedophiles.

"If they are exploiting young women, absolutely," Welner said. "Absolutely. … What they are engaging in is criminal and exploitive."

Welner went on to support his view that Mitchell is a pedophile with examples from Mitchell's life. "It is essentially the hippopotamus in the room," Welner said of Mitchell's apparent pedophilia. "It cannot be ignored."

When attorneys then presented Welner with a number of quotes attributed to Mitchell that they thought demonstrated that he is delusional and sincere in his religious beliefs, Welner pointed to a mentor relationship Mitchell developed while at the Utah State Hospital.

There, Mitchell befriended another man, who was identified as John in the competency hearing. John became a mentor to Mitchell who soon became his student. Mitchell even cut his hair, trimmed his beard and began dressing differently, such as not wearing any mixed fabrics.

"It would be a wonderful world if we could give people with psychotic disorders good companions," he said, implying that a real mental illness has to be treated with medication, not friendship.

Welner, the U.S. government's key expert witness, compiled a 205-page report about Mitchell that lists 210 sources of information. Welner interviewed 58 people for his evaluation himself.

The defense spent time during cross-examination talking about how much money Welner has been paid for his services. Welner said he had billed the government for about 1,600 hours at $425 an hour, both less than the actual hours he worked and the rate he normally charges non-agency clients, he said. He also is paid $5,000 for each day he testifies, which will total about three days after Thursday. That total also includes his time testifying during Mitchell's 2009 competency hearing.

In all, Welner has billed the government for more than $746,000 over the past two years.

Mitchell's father speaks to the media

Outside the courthouse after a break in the morning's proceedings, Mitchell's father, Shirl, said he believes his son is mentally ill and has long shown a lack of judgment.

"I followed Brian's relapse into insanity, which I firmly believe he's in," Shirl Mitchell said.

If convicted, Mitchell could be sentenced to up to life in federal prison. If he is found not guilty because of the insanity defense, he would also be sent to a federal prison facility for treatment.


Story written by Pat Reavy with contributions from Andrew Adams and DMC News team.


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