Mitchell sings; lawyers talk

He's ousted quickly from 2nd competency hearing

Deseret Morning News/February 17, 2005
By Pat Reavy

More singing and discussions about how Elizabeth Smart's accused kidnapper believes he's the modern-day Messiah who must stand trial so he can be "crucified" marked Day One of Brian David Mitchell's second competency hearing.

It was also revealed Wednesday that a plea bargain to settle the case was put on the table months ago. Mitchell, however, is now rejecting any plea bargain offers because he apparently believes that prosecutors are working for Satan and have an intense hatred of him, according to Jennifer L. Skeem, an assistant professor of psychology and social behavior at the University of California, Irvine.

The hearing in 3rd District Court was to continue today.

In order to deliver people to Zion, Mitchell believes he cannot fall into "temptation" and needs to go to trial even though he does not intend on putting up any defense, Skeem said.

"He believes he must sacrifice himself by becoming a complete martyr," Skeem said. "He believes with all his soul he will restore Zion."

Mitchell, 51, along with his co-defendant and wife, Wanda Barzee, 59, were indicted by a state grand jury Sept. 4, 2003, on charges of aggravated kidnapping, two counts of aggravated sexual assault, two counts of aggravated burglary and conspiracy to commit aggravated kidnapping after allegedly kidnapping Smart from her home in 2002.

He was initially ruled competent to stand trial Aug. 31. But following two consecutive court hearings in which Mitchell had to be escorted from the room for outbursts of songs, a second competency hearing was scheduled.

Wednesday's hearing began with another quick exit for Mitchell.

After sitting down next to his defense team, Mitchell began singing the LDS hymn "Who's on the Lord's Side?" He was escorted out of the room by bailiffs after just 15 seconds.

But in an effort to make sure Mitchell completely understood that he had a right to attend his own hearing but not to disrupt proceedings, Judge Judith Atherton brought Mitchell back into the room.

Mitchell stood while Atherton attempted to explain his rights. But her voice was drowned out by Mitchell's singing, which became increasingly loud the longer he was allowed to proceed.

This time Mitchell sang the words, "Repent for the kingdom of Heaven's at hand." He was removed from the courtroom after a little over a minute and was not seen for the rest of the day.

Skeem, a forensic psychologist, was hired by the the defense last year to do an evaluation of Mitchell and initially found him competent to stand trial. Her opinion changed, however, following a six-hour interview with Mitchell in October.

Skeem concluded Mitchell suffers from a delusional disorder. She noted that his delusions have become more intense in recent months. Everything Mitchell does, from the food he eats to the clothes he wears, has to come in the form of a revelation from God, she said.

Skeem noted that his religious beliefs were not the reason Mitchell was delusional. She made the distinction between delusions and eccentric religious beliefs and noted that it was the form of the belief that was important, not the content.

The fact that Mitchell's beliefs were "all-consuming," according to Skeem, contributed to her evaluation.

While Mitchell seemed at one time to have an understanding of the possible prison sentence he faced and was actively interested in his proceedings, "Now he spends time delivering sermons," Skeem said.

Skeem said Mitchell acknowledged that he may at some point have a revelation to just plead guilty or fire his defense team.

Mitchell believes that if convicted, God will deliver him from prison in seven years, Skeem said. He believes there will be a great battle with the Antichrist, she said, and he will be reunited with his "wives," including Elizabeth Smart.

Skeem also said that Mitchell's singing was his way of dealing with his fears and distress. She said the way he shook his hands while he sang was an indication of his nervousness. In court, Mitchell has learned he can get out of attending hearings by singing, Skeem said.

It was pointed out in court, however, that Mitchell's singing wasn't exclusive to court. He also burst into song during interviews with the FBI and doctors assigned by the court to examine him. Prosecutors noted that Mitchell had already had singing outbursts outside the courtroom when Skeem found him competent in her first report.

Lead prosecutor Kent Morgan told Atherton in court that Mitchell seemed to have the ability to burst into song when he wanted.

"He turns on his list of hymns for the court to hear and then he calmly leaves with a wave of the hand," he said.

Mitchell also sings commonly at the Salt Lake County Jail, particularly between the hours of 10 p.m. and 3 a.m., when he seems to get most of his revelations, Skeem said.

The day ended with Dr. Stephen Golding taking the witness stand. He originally found Mitchell incompetent to stand trial during his first examination and came to the same conclusion for his second report.

"What I suspected of in the beginning I'm even more convinced of now," he said.

The defense will continue its questioning of Golding today, followed by a cross-examination. Prosecutors are then expected to call Dr. Noel Gardner, who twice found Mitchell competent to stand trial, to the witness stand.

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