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After Mitchell sentencing, another family tries to put grief behind them

Published May 23, 2011 10:11 am

Courts • Mitchell family is also ready to be free from attention of the case.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The questions began for Irene Mitchell immediately following her son's arrest in 2003 for the abduction of 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart.

Did Brian Mitchell's family members see this coming? Did they try to intervene when they noticed his behavior becoming more eccentric and his religious views more erratic? How could this have happened?

Being thrown into a national spotlight has taken its toll on 85-year-old Irene Mitchell. For her, Mitchell's Wednesday sentencing will mark the end of years spent following her 57-year-old son's legal saga.

"It's very hard," Irene Mitchell said in a short interview from her Salt Lake County home. "I'm glad it will be over."

Brian Mitchell's family members have been reluctant to speak publicly about him, Irene Mitchell said, perhaps in part to distance themselves.

Brian Mitchell's daughter, Angela, has left the country as a way to escape the notoriety and media attention connected to her father's sentencing, Irene Mitchell said. His sister, Lisa Holbrook, who alerted police her brother could have been behind the abduction after seeing media reports about the case, is also hesitant to speak.

"I would rather not talk about it," she said last week. "I don't have much to say."

But several Mitchell family members including his parents and several of his five siblings testified at his trial to describe to oddities of his childhood and increasing concerns they had about him as an adult.

Irene Mitchell filed a police report seven weeks before Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee, abducted Smart. In it she complained her son and his wife had grabbed her arms and yelled angry threats, telling her that she would "be destroyed, your family will be destroyed, your home will be destroyed."

At trial, Irene Mitchell acknowledged her son was never treated for mental illness, but underwent a psychiatric evaluation when as a teenager after he exposed himself to a young girl. The psychiatrist at the time blamed the incident in part on her divorce from Brian Mitchell's father, Shirl, she said.

As Irene Mitchell prepares to put the painful memories of her son's trial behind, Rebecca Woodridge is opening a new chapter in life.

Woodridge faithfully visits her former stepfather, Brian Mitchell, twice a week at the Salt Lake County Jail. She says those visits lead her closer to the day she plans to confront Brian Mitchell for sexually assaulting her from age 7 until she was 11.

The 37-year-old is planning to announce the release date of a book she has authored about her life with Mitchell during the five years her mother was married to him. The narrative is helping her heal, she said.

Woodridge continues to support the notion that Brian Mitchell is mentally ill and believes he was acting on behalf of the Lord when he kidnapped Smart. She plans to submit a letter to the judge on Brian Mitchell's behalf before his sentencing.

"People in their right minds don't hurt children," she said. "People in their right minds don't live the way he lived."

mrogers@sltrib.com

Twitter: mrogers_trib —