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Mitchell defense rests in Smart kidnap case

Published December 3, 2010 6:55 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

For past coverage of the trial, including transcripts of testimony from Elizabeth Smart and Wanda Barzee, visit http://www.sltrib.com/topics/mitchell.

A prison psychologist testified Thursday that he believes Brian David Mitchell is a paranoid schizophrenic who believes he was divinely appointed to play a significant role at the end of the world and would fight the Antichrist.

"I believe he has a mental illness," said Richart DeMier, a clinical psychologist who conducted a court-ordered evaluation of Mitchell at the U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Mo., that began in December 2008. "I believe he is properly diagnosed as schizophrenia, paranoid type."

The psychologist described schizophrenia as "a psychotic disorder where there's a break with reality." One symptom of the illness is delusional beliefs that are tenaciously held, he said.

DeMier said he spoke with Mitchell for a total of about five hours; reviewed thousands of pages of legal, medical, police and court records; and viewed videos of police interrogations of Mitchell and interviews with Elizabeth Smart, among other material, for his evaluation. He was struck with how poised Smart was and how good her memory was.

The testimony came in the federal kidnapping of Mitchell, who is accused of kidnapping Smart in June 2002 and holding her captive for nine months.

Mitchell was watching the testimony through a video feed in a nearby room. He had been ordered removed from the courtroom by U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball — as he has been every day of the trial — for disrupting the proceedings by singing.

DeMier said Mitchell cooperated in the evaluation for a while.

"He told me early in the evaluation he would only talk to me as long as he thought my mind and my heart were open to his message," DeMier said. "He said he had received a special dispensation from the Lord to talk to me."

However, the cooperation ended after the fifth interview. Mitchell told him "it's not what's changed, it's what hasn't changed: your heart," according to DeMier.

Defense attorney Audrey James asked DeMier if he could explain what Mitchell's "core delusional beliefs were."

DeMier said Mitchell had the idea he was going to gather a number of wives that he would lead out of Babylon. He believed the Antichrist would rise up and he would then battle the Antichrist. Mitchell believed those that followed him would help establish Zion, and that Barzee would be the mother of Zion and bear a son that would be the Davidic King, even though she had a hysterectomy.

James asked DeMier if Mitchell ever told him these things directly, DeMier said "no." However, he said he would ask Mitchell if what he had said was right and Mitchell would repeatedly respond "thou sayest," which DeMier believed to be an affirmation.

"It was my understanding I have the core beliefs accurate," DeMier said.

He said the difference between a bizarre and a non-bizarre belief was that a bizarre belief could never happen, whereas a non-bizarre belief, while strange and highly unlikely, could still happen.

An example DeMier gave of a bizarre belief was from a patient of his that thought while he was in his sleep a transmitter was inserted in his tooth and was broadcasting his thoughts to the world through the TV.

No one else believed the beliefs Mitchell spoke of other than Barzee, who was mentally ill at the time, DeMier said. He said the notion that Mitchell would fight the Antichrist and be the Davidic King is a belief that "no one else shared ... that is why I came to the conclusion they were bizarre."

In Wednesday's testimony, psychiatrist Paul Whitehead testified he believed Mitchell suffered from delusional disorder. DeMier said while delusional disorder and schizophrenia are different, the difference is small.

"I think in many cases, what is most helpful is what are the symptoms," DeMier said. "If I had interpreted [his beliefs] as non-bizarre, I probably would have concluded the diagnosis of delusional disorder."

There are numerous types of subtypes of schizophrenia, DeMier said. Of the five subtypes Mitchell exhibited grandiose delusions and paranoid delusions, which are respectively, where the person feels they have over-the-top special abilities and where they feel they are continually being mistreated or harmed by someone or something.

DeMier said while evaluating Mitchell he described his delusions as "breathtakingly grandiose." He also showed symptoms of paranoia."He believed he would be mistreated, possibly brought close to death, before his triumphant return."

Mitchell looked to be calm and relaxed after the evaluation was over, but during the evaluation it was another story, DeMier said. "He appeared to be quite anxious about what was going to befall him."

He said when he told Mitchell the evaluation was complete that Mitchell seemed relieved.

"I remember looking at him and there was some palpable relief that the hammer hadn't come down on him," DeMier said, adding it was almost as if he had felt he had escaped something.

He also said over time while at his stay the state mental hospital, Mitchell noticed people weren't paying attention to him and his beliefs, so he started occupying his time doing other things, although DeMier said he still believes Mitchell was preoccupied with the same thoughts, he just wasn't acting on them as much.

In a transcript DeMier was able to read of a blessing Mitchell once gave to Barzee, he used many made-up words, which DeMier said are a "hallmark" sign of schizophrenia.

DeMier explained this making up of words is done by combining two other words and that schizophrenics commonly expect others to understand it. DeMier gave of an example of a word used by Mitchell that was used in a blessing, the word was "quareasm." Which DeMier described as a combination of the words quorum and orgasm. Mitchell said this in the context of talking about of a quorum of women having an orgasm with Mitchell.

"That is consistent with a disorganized thought process consistent with schizophrenia," DeMier said.

Mitchell also told DeMier he felt convicted in his heart to find the conversion of U.S. currency in silver so he could pay back Ed Smart, as the book of Deuteronomy said he should do.

"I think that just shows remarkable consistency, that even though there is a crime committed, he is still talking openly that this is a way to make it alright ... a way to compensate Mr. Smart [for what had happened]."

DeMier also said most patients with schizophrenia some can appear quite unimpaired. They seem to talk normally on regular day-to-day things, but their thought process "deteriorate" as the patient beings to talk about their bizarre beliefs.

"It is only when you start to talk about the content of the beliefs that the person starts to unravel," DeMier said. "They become engaged in that line of thought and their thinking deteriorates."

Many patients come into a mental hospital this way, DeMier said, who seem to look perfectly fine and make staff even wonder why they are in the hospital, but remove all doubt when they begin a bizarre thought process. Mitchell was able to talk rationally, he said, but as soon as religious topics came up things changed.

"I have seen people fall apart in front of me because that is the doorway to their thought order process," DeMier said.

DeMier said having a parent with schizophrenia increases the risk of having the condition. He pointed out that Mitchell's grandfather had been committed to the Utah State Hospital for mental illness.

And Mitchell's father, although never diagnosed with a mental illness, wrote a lengthy book with disorganized speech — which is a sign of schizophrenia and a trait shared by the son, DeMier said.

Another sign of mental illness is that Mitchell, who he thinks has above-average intelligence, showed "very strange patterns of behavior" going back to adolescence, according to DeMier. That included his insistence on an all-fruit diet and his belief that he could eat only once a day, an unusual attitude for a teenage boy, he said.

"I was struck by his conclusion when he was back east that his apartment manager was a sorcerer," DeMier said.

Those unusual thoughts and behaviors were precursors to Mitchell's drastic decline in the early to mid-1990s, he said. He said that in a short time, Mitchell went from a person who was married, held down a job and had relationships that seemed normal to rejecting his family, wearing robes, living in a teepee and refusing to pay his bills.

In addition, Mitchell gave special meanings to mundane events, the psychologist testified. When a police car rolled by him on the night Smart was taken from her home, he took it as confirmation that he was doing what he was supposed to do, DeMier said.

DeMier testified he does not believe Mitchell is faking the symptoms of mental illness, which is called malingering. Mitchell has been consistent in how he behaves and the symptoms he exhibits, he said.

"We see patterns with people who are malingering that I didn't see in Mr. Mitchell," DeMier said.

He also said that Mitchell does not want to be seen as mentally ill because it would invalidate his religious beliefs.

"In Mr. Mitchell's case, it's absolutely abhorrent to him the idea that he's mentally ill," DeMier said. "That's the last thing he wants."

Under cross-examination, DeMier acknowledged that he was asked to evaluate Mitchell's current mental state and has no opinion on whether he was insane at the time of the kidnapping.

To be insane, Mitchell would have had to be suffering from such a severe mental illness that he could not appreciate the wrongfulness of his acts.

Prosecutor Diana Hagen asked if DeMier had interviewed anyone else that Mitchell may have come in contact with, including Elizabeth Smart, Wanda Barzee, his family or law enforcement.

"No, I did not," DeMier said.

The only other person DeMier had come in contact with who talked with Mitchell was psychiatrist Paul Whitehead, who said he "wasn't interviewing him as source for information."

DeMier said much of the information he gathered from numerous reports from many professionals was "so rich and thorough" and "consistent."

DeMier said he reviewed a lot of information while talking with Mitchell and spent a lot of time. He said he spent so much time that he had to request a 15-day extension from the court to ask for extra time, aside from the 30-day timeframe to look through all the information.

During the first interview, Mitchell refused to talk with DeMier, The prosecution showed video of an interview where Mitchell would not disclose to DeMier what lead to the change in his identity because his "Lord and savior" forbade it.

When DeMier asked when this change happened, Mitchell answered, "it mattereth not."

DeMier asked if he could ask Mitchell some other questions.

"You may ask; whether I will answer is another matter," Mitchell said. "I understand you have your work to do, I also have my work to do. Suffice it to say your work and mine do not mix anymore than oil on water. I can only answer on the spirit of truth."

"So if I ask you questions about your education or work experience..." DeMier asked Mitchell.

Mitchell refused to answer those questions by saying, "it mattereth not. The past is washed away, washed clean." Mitchell went on to say, "The Lord has forgotten my sins."

Mitchell would routinely answer "it mattereth not" to numerous questions about ever being diagnosed with mental illness.

Hagen pointed out at this point in the interview DeMier was not talking about religious beliefs at the time.

DeMier said Mitchell was acting this way in the first interview to feel out the situation.

"I think part of what was going on there was impression management," he said. "I think he was trying to create first impression."

DeMier said he suspected Mitchell was making a decision on how much to reveal.

Hagen showed another video of another interview where Mitchell completely dissolved his Biblical and archaic speech when talking about uncontroversial questions.

In another video-recorded interview, Mitchell was asked about his living arrangements while at the state mental hospital. In the video, Mitchell explains his accommodations.

"I had a room to myself, that I was able to leave, anytime, day or night. However, at night time, you were required to stay in your room. You could leave the room [only] if you needed help ... or for a certain reason."

Hagen asked DeMier if he ever asked Mitchell why he changed from his old-English style of speech and stopped using Biblical language. DeMier said he directly asked Mitchell this question and that is when the interview came to an end.

In the video interview, DeMier told Mitchell: "I notice you use [certain] words [sometimes]. That you don't do it with everything. I am just curious about it."

Mitchell answered, "It is meaningful. Everything is meaningful. In prayer of course, often throughout many religions ... [we] use special language [while] in a special frame of mind."

Mitchell added that a ritual is something that is done to place someone in a certain frame of mind, "in a manner of being worshipful." He said all of life is a ritual that involves church, government and religion.

"So we are all mentally ill to some degree, because we all have some common thinking," Mitchell said.

He also said in the interview how he wasn't always able to fully disclose truth because he had speech problems similar to Biblical prophets of old.

"I am very clumsy and I know how ineptly I express the truth," Mitchell said in the recorded interview. "It is not my weakness. It is to be slow of speech even as Moses was. All I can say to that, the truth is so much greater that what I express ... my ability to express is infantile."

DeMier asked Mitchell if using the more formal language is useful for him. Mitchell responded, "It keeps me in more worshipful frame of mind. What I am talking about is history."

Hagen asked if after this recorded interview ended if Mitchell ever had any more interviews. DeMier said eventually Mitchell said he couldn't talk to him anymore because he had a revelation that DeMier was "not open to his message" and refused to have any further interviews on camera.

Hagen asked DeMier if it was possible that Mitchell was using revelation as a means to get out of the interview, much like he did with other things he wasn't willing to do when he had Smart. DeMier agreed it was possible.

He also said in a 38-month period of time there were variations seen in how Mitchell acted. DeMier said he felt it was Mitchell adapting to his surroundings more than anything.

"He probably learned he wasn't going to be responded to for his delusional beliefs, so he stopped trying. That is what I think may have happened," DeMier said.

In a previous interview, Mitchell actually told DeMier that he had the ability to choose with his agency to disobey God's commands, but chose not to. However, even if he did disobey, Mitchell said there would always be repentance and God would take him back and there would be no "great calamity that would befall" him.

"I could choose not to obey him, but to choose not to obey him is to be cut off from his presence," Mitchell said. "Disobedience is sin. He cuts us off. Sin is the one thing that cuts us off from his presence. He invites all that is truth ... all that his wonderful and all that is good to abide in him ... those that sin cannot tolerate his presence. The darkness cannot abide the light. When you choose to sin, you abide in darkness. We separate ourselves from his light his truth [and] his presence. That is the choice. I can choose to disobey, but I can choose to be cut off. Repentance is always possible."

"You can disobey and then come back?" DeMier asked.

"Exactly," Mitchell said. "So long as it is heartfelt, and I turn away from the sin."

DeMier said he felt like a project of Mitchell's to convert or something and that over time he felt like Mitchell was teaching him, rather than being interviewed.

"In the last clip we saw," DeMier said. "It sounds to me like preaching, choices and consequences. I felt very much preached to at that point."

After being at the state mental hospital for a few months Mitchell wouldn't be reading scriptures, but was found reading science fiction and other secular books, Hagen said. DeMier agreed with her and said that he gave up his religious teaching within months of going to the mental hospital after seeing no one was receptive to his message.

"That shows social judgment, doesn't it?" Hagen asked.

"A little bit," DeMier answered.

DeMier said it wasn't that Mitchell completely gave up talking religion to people, but wasn't producing anything new in the ways of religious writings.

While in interviews, Mitchell disclosed to DeMier that he needed to read his book, the Book of Immanuel David Isaiah, because therein lied his only defense.

DeMier said it would not surprise him if there were hundreds of people who believe they are the "One Mighty and Strong" and said the belief is "not uncommon." He said Mitchell never told him he was the Davidic King but when asked if he were, Mitchell said, "Thou sayest," and one time also nodded his head up and down, which DeMier took as affirmation.

In her questioning, Hagen pointed out that others combine two words to create a new one, such as refudiate (by Sarah Palin), three-peat and guesstimate. DeMier acknowledged that was true.

DeMier also said that when Mitchell ducked behind a bush when he saw a police car pass right after Smart was taken from her home, his prayer — let their eyes be sealed — was not something a normal kidnapper would say.

The psychologist, who said he testifies in court for the prosecution "the vast majority of the time," stuck by his diagnosis.

"I think Mr. Mitchell has paranoid schizophrenia," he said.

The defense rested and rebuttal began.

A stipulation was entered that Sterling Allan would testify that he was part of the Mormon fringe and in 1992 founded the American Study Group, which studied the Constitution. The group at one point had 4,000 members and nearly everyone believed One Mighty and Strong would put the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints back in order, according to the stipulation.

Allan, who said he remembers Mitchell attending meetings, said he knows about 200 people who believe they are the One Mighty and Strong and he himself at one point believed he might be.