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Expert: Mitchell's book shows 'mainstream' beliefs

Published December 3, 2010 1:42 pm

Stepdaughters • Tell jurors about Mitchell's sexual abuse, say he baked mice in the family oven
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

An expert witness for the prosecution testified Friday that a religious tome authored by Brian David Mitchell doesn't go far to prove he was insane when he kidnapped and raped Elizabeth Smart.

Daniel Peterson, a professor of Islamic Studies at Brigham Young University and also a published religious scholar, called Mitchell's Book of Immanuel David Isaiah "derivative" and "completely mainstream" as much of it is taken from scriptures.

There are numerous scriptural and religious texts that Mitchell either lifted completely or quoted in the book, Peterson told the court. He likened Mitchell's composition of his book to "how a student would compose a term paper."

The testimony came in the final stage of Mitchell's trial in U.S. District Court, where prosecutors are now presenting witnesses to counter defense experts who have said Mitchell's beliefs couldn't be explained by the fundamentalist Mormon culture and that Mitchell was delusional during the nine months he and his wife, Wanda Barzee, held a then-14-year-old Smart captive.

Friday's session began in the usual fashion: Mitchell began singing and was escorted from the courtroom to view the proceedings remotely. But Mitchell deviated from singing Christmas carols to sing Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sacrament hymns including "Upon the Cross of Calvary," and "O God the Eternal Father."

Peterson told jurors he spent hundreds of hours evaluating Mitchell's book, which Mitchell began writing in April 2002. The book chronicles his time with Smart and his future appointment as the true prophet of the LDS Church. The prosecution submitted as evidence a copy of the book where Peterson had highlighted which parts were quoted words from either LDS hymns or other religious writings including the Bible, and which parts were Mitchell's additions.

In one part, Mitchell makes up a completely new verse to the song "O Come Emmanuel." In another, he changed the text of a quote from the Book of Mormon scripture in the Book of Ether that reads "Whether the Lord will that I be translated, or that I suffer the will of the Lord in the flesh, it mattereth not, if it so be that I am saved in the kingdom of God."

Mitchell's version said it "mattereth not what happen to me so long as I am saved."

Clinical psychologist Richart DeMier has testified Mitchell's core religious beliefs clearly separate him from people with extreme religious beliefs.

DeMier testified Mitchell believed he was going to lead a number of wives out of Babylon and that he would battle the anti-Christ. Those who followed him would then help establish Zion, and Barzee would be the mother of Zion and bear a son who would be the Davidic King — even though Barzee had had a hysterectomy, DeMier said.

Peterson told jurors Friday Mitchell's idea that there is "One Mighty and Strong" is held by most of the groups that splintered off from the mainstream LDS Church. Claimants to that position first showed up in 1905, he said, meaning Mitchell's assertion is not new or unusual.

In the book, Mitchell explained how he believes he would lead the church in the mid 1990s after the current church president at the time, Ezra Taft Benson, died.

"Mitchell believes at the death of Ezra Taft Benson, the authority is transferred to him," Peterson said, adding that authority coming to the new leader of the offshoot sect is similar to what every "schismatic group" of the LDS church believes.

Many people of faith also believe there is a Davidic King and every splinter Mormon group claims to have a prophet, Peterson said. He said the idea of an anti-Christ is not new but acknowledged that the idea that a certain person would battle him is "a little unusual."

The idea of becoming a god or goddess?

"Every [LDS] member who believes and understands the gospel as taught by the church believes that," Peterson said.

The ideas of resurrection, free will, repentance and forgiveness also are "absolutely mainstream," he said.

And Mitchell's statement that Barzee could have a child despite having had a hysterectomy, is reasonable "if you believe," Peterson said. He pointed to similarities to the belief that Mary gave birth to Jesus without having relations with a man.

Prosecutor David Bachman also asked Peterson to explain what he believes Mitchell's concept of a revelation is. Barzee has testified in the trial that revelations dictated nearly every aspect of their lives and their time with Smart.

Peterson told the court Mitchell does not believe a revelation consists of hearing voices or having visions, and his idea of a revelation is not typical of what Christians or LDS followers believe. Mitchell attempts to consider any ideas he has as revelation, regardless of the way they are received, Peterson testified.

The standard view of a revelation is of something that comes at a certain point, Peterson said.

"Revelation doesn't begin one year and continue for 12 months," Peterson testified. "My sense for Mr. Mitchell is his ideas come through revelation."

Defense attorney Parker Douglas asked Peterson to read excerpts from the book of Immanuel David Isaiah.

While reading about an endowment ceremony in the book, Douglas asked Peterson to explain if there was a similar part of a marriage ceremony that was done in and LDS temple that was performed without clothes on.

"It would be unusual if this was done without clothes," Peterson said.

Douglas also asked Peterson if in his experience if he knew of anyone sealing themselves to someone else, referring to how he sealed himself to Barzee. Peterson said what Mitchell did by performing an ordinance by himself is not typical, but is also not unusual to what has been done before in LDS church history.

Following Peterson's testimony, the government entered into evidence a stipulation that said if Mitchell's stepdaughter, Rebecca Woodridge, were to testify she would have said that she was living with Mitchell from 1981-1985, and that "Mitchell sexually abused her multiple times and forced her to touch his penis." The stipulation also said that during that time Mitchell told her not to tell anyone and that no one would believe her if she did tell anyone.

Prosecutors then called Rebecca's sister, Heidi Woodridge, to the witness stand. She cried as she approached the witness stand and as she began spelling her name for the court. The women are the daughters of Mitchell's ex-wife, Debbie.

Mitchell was married to Debbie, in the early 1980s, when Heidi was between the ages of 9-12 years old. Heidi was the oldest sibling and also lived in the house with siblings Rebecca, Tammy, Travis and Angie.

Bachman asked Woodridge to explain a time when Mitchell cooked dead mice in the oven of the family's kitchen after an argument with her mother about some bread he was baking in the over. Her mother was "petrified" of mice found downstairs in a dirt basement of the home, Woodridge told the court.

"It was heated, an in your face argument," Woodridge testified.

When her mother screamed, Woodridge said she ran into the kitchen to see "a bunch of dead mice in the oven."

Afterward, Woodridge testified, Mitchell "kind of smirked, then he went back and cooked the bread in the oven."

Woodridge also told the jury she once was taking a bath, heard a sound and turned around to see Mitchell standing in a bathroom closet taking photographs of her.

"I told him to get out and covered myself and then he just walked out," a tearful Woodridge said.

She didn't remember her exact age at the time but said she was between 9 and 12 years old.

Next on the stand Friday was psychologist Randall Oster, who evaluated Mitchell in 1983 when he wanted to relinquish custody of his children from his first marriage.

Oster said it is not necessarily unusual for parents to give up rights to their children but Mitchell's situation was different because he was being evaluated to determine if he was mentally fit to relinquish custody. Mitchell's mother had challenged his ability to give up the children, he said.

"In my opinion, he did not show evidence of a significant mental illness," Oster said, referring to a report he wrote in December 1983.

Paul Mecham, a former LDS stake president, testified he met Mitchell in 1980, after Mitchell married his second wife. His impression was that Mitchell was "mild mannered, soft spoken and initially likeable," he testified.

He then started noticing how Mitchell would mirror the person he was talking to. For example, if he spoke to a soft spoken older woman who had her head down, Mitchell also would talk softly and put his head down, Mecham said.

In the mid 1980s, Mecham said, he met in his office with Mitchell because he had a report from Mitchell and Mitchell's wife's bishop of "improper actions." As he was saying his first sentence, which included the word "improper," Mitchell exploded, Mecham said.

He shouted and stormed out of the office "and I've not seen him again," Mecham said.

The prosecution next called LouRee Gayler, Barzee's daughter, to the stand.

Gayler said from age of 12-14 she lived with Mitchell and Barzee from 1986-88 in an apartment in downtown Salt Lake City on the seventh floor in a small building. Gayler said the walls were thin in the apartment.

"I could hear everything, including neighbors," Gayler testified, recalling how she could also hear a scream from her mother at night sometims.

"It sounded like he [Mitchell] was overpowering her."

Gayler said Mitchell and Barzee only allowed her to leave the home from work at a theatre or church and was never allowed to have friends over.

"They didn't want me talking to anybody," Gayler said about her opportunity to have friendships as a teenager. She said she was never allowed to keep any of the money she earned and that her parents never felt the money she made at work was enough.

"They were greedy and always wanted more," she said.

Prosecutor Alicia Cook asked Gayler to describe Mitchell's demeanor. Gayler said Mitchell always had to be physical with Barzee and Gayler when talking to them.

"...he felt like if he had his arms on us he would be more dominating," she said.

She testified his demeanor was quiet at times but that she was "worried about when he would explode."

Gayler said Mitchell felt he was very intelligent and "thought people were his puppets."

Cook asked what Mitchell would he do with the intelligence he felt he had. Gayler testified Mitchell's presentation of who he was changed often depending on who he was in front of.

"I actually liked who he was at church, at home there was nothing but torment and chaos," said Gayler.

Gaylor told the court Mitchell had started referring to himself as a prophet before she decided to move out at age 14. Mitchell grew out his beard out and started dressing differently, she testified.

As a teenager, Gayler said, Barzee would talk to her about her sex life with Mitchell. Mitchell was present for some of those conversations, she said, and at one point Gayler was asked to join in.

"Religion was used as an excuse on their behavior," Gayler said. "That they could treat anyone how they wanted and they could repent and they didn't have to answer to anyone."

One example she gave when while Mitchell would gather the family for prayer, he would give the prayers and pull out pictures from nude magazines to show Gayler while praying.

"They [Mitchell and Barzee] blessed the grass and the trees and Brian stared pulling out nude magazines from underneath the bed," Gayler said while adding that Mitchell tried to get her to get to look at these images from the magazine during the prayer. She said Mitchell would nudge her and get her to open her eyes to view the nude images during the prayer.

Cook asked how many times this happened.

"During those prayers four to five times," Gayler said.

Mitchell would, caress Gayler "way too much," she said and would try to "brush up against my breasts sometimes."

She also added that Mitchell would kiss her on the lips contrary to her requests to stop and also thrust his pelvis at her.

Gayler said she didn't know where to go to protect herself and left home around age 14 after she unknowingly was made to eat her pet rabbit, "Peaches" for dinner one night. Barzee told her it was chicken. Gayler testified she had her pet rabbit Peaches for 1 1/2 years and said the rabbit "was the only thing that would love me unconditionally."

She said she didn't find out until the next morning that Peaches was dead. She went to the rabbit's cage outside to go feed it and noticed it was gone, so she went to ask her mom where the rabbit was.

"...Wanda laughed hysterically and said I ate her for dinner last night," Gayler testifeid, adding that Mitchell was in a nearby room "watching with glee."

Another witness, Alysa Landry, who lived in the same Orem house as Mitchell and Barzee for four or five months until spring 1998, testified Mitchell was eager for polygamy to be restored.

Landry, Mitchell and Barzee, were living in the home of C. Samuel West, who sold products related to lymphology, a type of alternative medicine. Landry was engaged to West's son and Mitchell was a follower of lymphthology.

C. Samuel West and Mitchell had discussion about how the mainstream LDS Church had gone astray, how polygamy would be restored and how a new prophet would come, who West said would be a certified lymphthologist, Landry testified.

They also had revelations, she said, with Mitchell's including ones concerning health, such as what food to eat, and others dealing with Barzee. The revelations said Barzee's place was behind him and her robes need to, be blue, according to Landry.

At first, West was at the top of the hierarchy in the home, his sons came next and the women were at the bottom, Landry said. Mitchell quickly became the dominant religious figure in the home because he strictly followed the rules. He dominated Barzee, she said, and no one was allowed to speak to her directly.

Scott Dean, the widower of Mitchell's late sister, testified his brother-in-law never talked to him about having a divinely ordained role or battling the Antichrist. He never worried that Mitchell might be mentally ill, Dean said. —

Jurors to have longer days

U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball announced he would extend the time court is in session for the trial each day from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. or later.

The judge said he has cleared his calender next week to do so in an effort to end the trial on the previously scheduled date of Dec. 10.

"Except for Tuesday we can go until we all get tired," Kimball said.