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By December 13, 2010 6 Comments Read More →

Proving the truth in the Elizabeth Smart case

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.

Greg Porter

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.

Expensive case

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.

More information

To learn more about this case, read the following articles.

Summary of the case on CNN.com:

Smart says justice served after federal jury finds kidnapper guilty

Summary of Dr. Weiner’s testimony, including the cost, on the Deseret News:

Prosecution’s last witness takes stand in Brian David Mitchell trial

Summary of Dr. Richard DeMier’s testimony on the Salt Lake Tribune:

Mitchell defense rests in Smart kidnap case



6 Comments on "Proving the truth in the Elizabeth Smart case"

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  1. Ox Drover says:

    Thanks, Donna for this great summation of that case. I have followed it since she was found and I can’t even imagine just what that little girl had to endure at the hands of this monster, and monster is just what I think he is.

    I agree with Dr. Weiner’s assessment from the things I have read (but of course reading about this kind of behavior we must rely on the conclusions of others to base our opinions on)

    The expense in convicting this man is difficult to calculate in terms of man hours, dollars, and grief to that young woman. This man reminds me very much of Charlie Manson’s trial which I followed daily on the news from the time of the murders to his conviction as I lived in LA at the time.

    Unfortunately, calling this man an AsPD and a Psychopath only underscores the high end of the spectrum as that term, when many others who are still in political office, sitting on judge’s benches, in cop cars, or in corner offices in industry fly right by the radar as “simply jerks” when iin fact, they too are psychopaths.



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  2. aussiegirl says:

    The good thing about so much money being spent on this high-profile case is that it will hopefully be used as a reference point and a benchbar for future, similar cases.

    Doctor Weiner may have been well paid but he also performed a huge public service by being so thorough and by producing such a comprehensive report. If it helps to send just one more bad guy to the clink, then imagine how many potential victims it could save. That’s got to be worth way more than $746,000. Money well spent, I say.

    Ox –
    I just read a book called “The cult files” by Chris Mikul (about extreme religious beliefs). It includes an overview of the Manson stuff. Even in the conciseness of each overview, it was possible for me (now that I know what I know) to work out which “leaders” were delusional nut-jobs and which were full-blown sociopaths. Not my usual style of read (borrowed from a friend) but gripping and enlightening nonetheless. (Even if it did leave my stomach cold and curdled reading it)

    Also – on TV last night was a profile of a woman whose 2 day old baby disappeared 14 years ago. She was eventually convicted of murder after Child Protection workers discovered she had actually had 3 children which none of her friends or family knew about – she adopted the other 2 out and then happily pursued her olympic water-polo career, without skipping a beat. A woman has just written a book about her, called “Nice girl”. I’m going to try to contact her (the author) and ask her to send a synopsis to Donna to post here, because she (the water-polo girl) sounds to me like a full-blown spath. Chance to educate the author also, who was scathing when she spoke of the woman but did not mention sociopathy although she was quite clear in her belief that the woman was not suffering from a mental illness or Post Natal Depression – as were the jury who who convicted her. The babies appear to just been a major inconvenience to her lifestyle and appearance. Ughhhh.



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  3. dancingnancies says:

    Finally, justice is served. When I’d heard about this guy possibly getting off on the “insanity” plea I had to do a double, even triple take. Sick, sick, sick. Put away this creep FOR LIFE. There is no way in hell you’re going to get off on the insanity plea after kidnapping ( from her BEDROOM ) and sexually abusing a 13 year old child. Towanda to Elizabeth Smart. She is a brave girl.

    But i agree that only mentioning the word psychopath in high profile cases like this only makes the girth between so called “high end” sociopaths and “low end” sociopaths wider. Not that either are more or less dangerous than the other ( I think of spectrum more based on the degree of actions carried out. Sure not all psychopaths go to the extreme of kidnapping– but that’s just a small detail. ) .. It has to do with the conspicuousness of the crime being committed. Just because a sociopath is considered “low” on the spectrum does not mean he does not have the same capability of so called “high profile” psychopaths. In this case, the P was not very conspicuous in carrying out his actions- probably the opposite. It’s not always so clean cut though.



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  4. Ox Drover says:

    Dear Aussie,

    I got on a “true crime” book reading kick some years ago and almost every one of the ghastly ones were card-carrying psychopaths and seldom were they named as such. But even if they had been NAMED AS PSYCHOPATHS, the psychopaths that do on average the most damage I think are those that slip beneath the criminal radar. Not that some of the things they do aren’t criminal or illegal but they are less “newsworthy” than serial murder or serial rape etc. they are just like this Aussie guy that Donna profiled here that just got sent to jail for a few months, big phony but PROBABLY no serial killer—-but look at the Canadian military officer that was “just” an underwear fettisher, breaking into women’s homes and putting on their underwear and taking photos of it—BUT HE EVENTUALLY WENT ON TO SERIAL MURDER. So if he had been “caught” when all he was doing was wearing women’s underwear and taking photos who would have suspected he was a FULL BLOWN PSYCHOPATH capable of SERIAL MURDER? No one is my guess.

    Of course some of them NEVER progress beyond the “kinky” stuff into really horrible brutal murders or rapes, but to me that doesn’t mean they are not still all psychopaths, just different levels of VIOLENCE…but that can change or get worse.

    If a person doesn’t have a conscience what is to stop them from becoming more and more violent?

    After reading enough of the “true crime” books I got to the point that they made me almost vomit and I had to stop reading them. I still watch some American shows that highlight criminal psychopaths or their victim’s survivals or I read about them on the news. Sometimes though I have to take a break from it because the stories are so horrific I get so angry and I don’t need the stress it brings.



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  5. Harold says:

    I love that he was tripped up by his personas being self serving and beyond that which a truly mentally compromised person could create. Fabulous. Typicaly psychopathic overthink, overestimation and overconfidence – failure to see the big picture. Hah! BooYAH!!!

    Also happy that only one doctor was fooled.

    Well done Utah.



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  6. one_step_at_a_time says:

    Great summation Donna!

    Fascinating to read the different diagnoses.



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