Brian David Mitchell, who supposedly believed he would gather a number of wives and lead them out of Babylon, was convicted last week of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart.
This case has been in the media for years. Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped at knifepoint as she was sleeping in 2002, when she was 14 years old. Mitchell held her captive for nine months, and over that time, sexually assaulted her continuously.
The facts of the federal case were never in dispute. What was disputed, however, was Mitchell’s sanity. Some experts thought he was delusional. Some thought he was a psychopath. In the end, thankfully, the jury rejected the insanity defense.
Mitchell, however, was good. He kept the charade going almost all of the time. Every day of the four-week trial, he was thrown out of court for singing hymns and Christmas carols. While being interviewed by at least one psychologist, he refused to answer questions directly, stating only, “thou sayest.”
This case shows how difficult it can be to nail a manipulator who is intent on “impression management.” Witnesses in the trial included a number of mental health professionals. Here’s what they said:
Dr. Noel Gardner
Gardner, a psychiatrist, was court-ordered to evaluate Mitchell in 2003 and concluded that he was competent to stand trial. Gardner believed Mitchell had antisocial personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder. Here’s how he testified, according to 48 Hours Mystery:
Gardner said he has identified a number of what he called religious personas – the intimidator, the humble penitent, the sadist, the clever magician and the religious chameleon – that provide proof of Mitchell’s cunning and manipulation skills.
“He uses them sometimes to do impression management, to create a situation that makes it more likely that he’ll get what he wants,” Gardner said. “It is simply impossible, in my opinion, for somebody with a severe mental disease or defect to do this range of very clever, very successful, very situationally [sic] attuned presentation in ways that are consistently self-serving.”
Dr. Paul Whitehead
Whitehead, a forensic psychiatrist, was the clinical director of the forensic unit at Utah State Hospital, where Mitchell resided from August 2005 until October 2008. He believed Mitchell was suffering from delusional disorder. According to the Deseret News, Whitehead described a meeting between Mitchell and his father:
The one-hour meeting between Mitchell and his father was “unusual,” Whitehead said. Shirl Mitchell was derogatory toward his son, he said. When they talked about each other’s first memories, Brian Mitchell said it was eating dog food while another sibling was being born.
Based on studying Mitchell’s family, Whitehead said there was evidence of a “very robust family history” of psychotic disorders.
Porter, Mitchell’s therapist at the Utah State Hospital, agreed with the diagnosis of delusional disorder, and said he wasn’t a master manipulator. “I did not view him as James Bond. More like Inspector Clouseau—he was bumbling.” Here is part of what Porter testified in court, according to the Deseret News:
For the most part, Porter described Mitchell as a narcissist. “He believes himself to be above other people and shows a remarkable lack of empathy,” he said. “He’s more or less unconcerned about other people on the unit other than to tell them his story and preach at them.”
He said Mitchell had several different sides, from being loud and intimidating to flippant to just mute, which he used for manipulation, but not as well as other patients.
Dr. Michael Weiner
Federal prosecutors brought in Dr. Michael Weiner, a forensic psychiatrist, as their final witness. Weiner characterized Mitchell as a sadistic pedophile with antisocial personality disorder and psychopathy, who also abused alcohol. The psychiatrist said Mitchell was not only a good liar, but he was skilled at misleading people. “To know Brian David Mitchell is to be fooled by Brian David Mitchell,” he said.
Here’s what USAToday reported about Weiner’s court appearance:
In making his determination, Weiner testified, he reviewed 210 sources of information that included medical, mental health and police reports along with Mitchell’s religious writings. Weiner also interviewed 57 people, including Smart, while forming his opinion.
“Elizabeth Smart is really one of only two people who actually interacted with Brian David Mitchell when his guard was down,” Weiner said.
Weiner attempted to interview Mitchell but said the defendant refused by sitting mute with his eyes shut for most of the five hours they spent together. Mitchell broke his silence by singing hymns and once shouted, “Repent, repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” the doctor said.
Dr. Richard DeMier
Dr. Richard DeMier was the final defense witness. He conducted a court-ordered evaluation of Mitchell that began in December 2008. DeMier said Mitchell has a mental illness, and should be diagnosed as schizophrenia, paranoid type. The Salt Lake Tribune describe DeMier’s testimony in detail:
In a transcript DeMier was able to read of a blessing Mitchell once gave to Barzee (Mitchell’s wife), 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.
Collectively, the psychiatrists and psychologists spent days on the witness stand. In the end, it was up to the jury to decide—whom did they believe? Was Brian David Mitchell insane or not?
In reaching the guilty verdict, the jury essentially validated the work of Dr. Michael Weiner, who said Mitchell was a psychopath. The good news about this verdict—Mitchell did not get away with his manipulation. The bad news—exposing the con cost a fortune.
Weiner interviewed 57 people, including Elizabeth Smart and Wanda Barzee, Mitchell’s estranged wife, who pleaded guilty. He used 210 sources of information. He wrote a 206-page report, the most comprehensive report ever produced about Mitchell. For this work, Weiner billed the United States government $746,000. He was also paid $5,000 per day to testify, plus expenses.
Unfortunately, most of us don’t have the resources of the federal government when trying to prove that someone is a psychopath. That’s one reason why fighting them is such a tough battle.
To learn more about this case, read the following articles.
Summary of the case on CNN.com:
Summary of Dr. Weiner’s testimony, including the cost, on the Deseret News:
Summary of Dr. Richard DeMier’s testimony on the Salt Lake Tribune: