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BYU prof says 'there's a logic' to Mitchell's writings

Published November 30, 2009 8:04 pm

Courts » Stepdaughter says accused was interested in hypnosis, mind control and survivalism.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Brian David Mitchell wrote in his book he was the true and living prophet who would battle the Antichrist. He said the practice of plural marriage would be restored. He believes he has a special relationship with God.

But whether the claims demonstrate a delusional mind or a highly intelligent manipulator dominated testimony on the first day of a two-week long competency hearing for Elizabeth Smart's alleged kidnapper.

Brigham Young University professor Daniel Peterson on Monday testified Mitchell's claims fall within the tradition of breakaway Mormon groups. The testimony countered a report by psychologist Richart DeMier, who said Mitchell's beliefs couldn't be explained by the fundamentalist Mormon culture.

Peterson, who called Mitchell's book "an impressive production in many senses," said Mitchell uses scriptural language well and makes many references to both fundamentalist and mainstream beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"I don't share his belief, but there's a logic to them," said Peterson, a professor of Islamic studies and Arabic who studies religious texts. "The logic makes sense when you buy into the presuppositions."

Peterson has analyzed Mitchell's Book of Immanuel David Isaiah I, which he began writing in April 2002 and chronicles his time with Smart and his future appointment as the true prophet of the LDS Church, and the 11-page Book of Immanuel David Isaiah II, which he wrote during the past year.

Parker Douglas, a defense lawyer for Mitchell, suggested Mitchell's ability to write the books doesn't mean he's competent. Douglas cited an example of a person with autism being able to memorize the mathematical figure pi out to hundreds of decimal places.

Peterson said that type of mentality did not go into the formation of Mitchell's texts.

"They are artfully arranged and put together in very coherent fashion," the professor said.

LouRee Gayler, Mitchell's stepdaughter, described him from the witness stand as a "dominating" and "highly intelligent" man who spent a lot of time studying at the library. She said he was interested in hypnosis, mind control and survivalism.

Gayler said she was forced to work at a movie theater beginning at age 12 to help pay the bills when she lived with her mother, Wanda Barzee, and Mitchell for two years in the late 1980s. The two had declared themselves tax-exempt, she said.

And her stepfather was "creepy," according to Gayler.

She testified Mitchell would hug her in her bedroom late at night in an inappropriate manner. Mitchell and Barzee once showed her a box of pornography they had under their bed and she had the impression they wanted her to join them in sexual activities, Gayler said

Mitchell put on a completely different face on Sundays at church, Gayler said. The family moved three times in two years, she said, when church members would begin to suspect something was wrong.

Gayler testified that she moved back with her father after her 14th birthday after the pair served her what they said was chicken but was actually her pet rabbit, Peaches. When she occasionally saw Barzee and Mitchell on the streets after that, they would either hide from her or preach the gospel, she said.

A total of two dozen witnesses are slated to testify for the prosecution to help U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball determine whether Mitchell is able to understand the charges against him and assist his lawyers in his defense. Mitchell's attorneys have listed seven witnesses they intend to call to the stand.

Mitchell entered the courtroom and sang several Christmas carols, including "Joy to the World," "O Come All Ye Faithful" and "Silent Night." He was escorted from the courtroom and placed in a nearby room, where he could hear and see the court proceedings. Mitchell faces up to life in prison if he is convicted of kidnapping Smart, who prosecutors say he wanted as a plural wife.

Also testifying Monday were David Talley and Tye Jensen, psychiatric technicians who worked at the Utah State Hospital when Mitchell was under evaluation there. Talley said Mitchell once told him that he sang in court because he wouldn't be judged by man.

"He believed God will be his ultimate judge, and he wasn't going to participate in the process," Talley said. "He believes the whole court system is corrupt, and he wasn't going to play any part of it."

Jensen described Mitchell as an intelligent man who could talk in-depth about literature and music and was methodical and organized. He said Mitchell did not watch television when he arrived at the Utah State Hospital in August 2005, but later started viewing four to five hours of programs a day.

Mitchell, whose favorite show was "Charmed," a program about three sisters who are witches, made schedules so patients could watch their favorite programs on one of three available televisions, Jensen said. Mitchell created a flow chart assigning patients to specific television rooms depending on what they wanted to watch and whether a staff member had to monitor them.

Smart's parents, Ed and Lois Smart, attended the hearing, but did not enter the courtroom until after Mitchell had been removed. Ed Smart said after Monday's court session that he believes Mitchell was on the verge of assaulting Gayler and that he's relieved she got out of the house when she did.

Elizabeth Smart, who testified in October as part of the competency determination, said that Mitchell showed her pornography and sexually assaulted her repeatedly during her nine months of captivity.

"I think Judge Kimball will get the picture," Ed Smart said. "I think he'll be found competent."

pmanson@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">pmanson@sltrib.com

Tribune reporter Sheena McFarland contributed to this report.

The case

Brian David Mitchell, 56, and his wife, Wanda Eileen Barzee, 64, are accused of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart on June 5, 2002, from her Federal Heights home. They were arrested in March 2003 while walking in Sandy with the girl.

A judge in the state's 3rd District Court has ruled Mitchell cannot be forcibly medicated to try to restore his mental competency; the same judge ruled Barzee could be forcibly medicated, a process that began at the Utah State Hospital in May 2008.

The state court ruling led the U.S. Attorney's Office to begin a case against the couple. A federal grand jury issued an indictment last year charging Mitchell and Barzee with kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor.

Doctors at the Utah State Hospital said this fall that they believe Barzee is now mentally competent. She pleaded guilty on Nov. 17 to the federal charges and agreed to testify against Mitchell in exchange for a 15-year prison term.