Judge says Smart kidnapper can't stand trial yet

Reuters/July 26, 2005
By James Nelson

Salt Lake City -- A homeless street preacher accused of kidnapping teenager Elizabeth Smart in 2002 was found delusional and incompetent to stand trial on Tuesday by a judge who ordered him confined to a mental hospital.

Judge Judith Atherton handed down her decision following six days of hearings over seven months into the mental state of Brian David Mitchell, proceedings which were often interrupted by the defendant singing or yelling religious verses.

In her 60-page written opinion Atherton said Mitchell, 51, had "symptoms of a delusional disorder," contrary to prosecution experts who had testified that his strange behavior did not prevent him from understanding his surroundings.

The judge said Mitchell's mental disorder "substantially interferes with his relationship with counsel" and would make it impossible for him to testify about the events related to the charges.

Atherton ordered Mitchell confined in a mental institution for treatment and said that when he reaches competency he should ultimately stand trial for Smart's June 5, 2002, kidnapping.

Smart, then 14, was taken from her Salt Lake City bedroom at knifepoint and remained missing for nine months despite one of the state's largest manhunts. She was discovered walking with Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee, in a Salt Lake suburb on March 13, 2003.

Barzee was ruled incompetent to stand trial at an earlier hearing and remains in a state facility.

"The judge is going to have to (eventually) determine whether or not the defendant is truly suffering from a mental illness or whether the defendant is malingering," Salt Lake County Prosecutor Kent Morgan said following Atherton's ruling.

"At this point the court has determined that the evidence shows he is suffering from a delusional disorder. That was not our opinion. We are disappointed but this is still a case in which the evidence still must be presented to the court over time to see if he can maintain that aura of a delusional disorder," he said.

Mitchell and Barzee are charged with kidnapping and aggravated sexual assault. Smart's ordeal drew international news coverage and the search for the little girl transfixed much of America for months.

According to court documents Mitchell and Barzee held Smart captive in a mountain campsite before traveling to California and Nevada while living a nomadic lifestyle among the homeless.

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