Nurse: Suspect in Smart abduction faked symptoms

Associated Press/December 1, 2009

Salt Lake City - A psychiatric nurse who observed the man charged with abducting Elizabeth Smart said Tuesday she believes he faked psychiatric symptoms and behaviors to avoid prosecution and remain at a state hospital.

Leslie Miles, a former employee of Utah State Hospital, took the witness stand during the second day of the competency hearing for Brian David Mitchell, 56, who faces federal charges of kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor across state lines.

Mitchell was able to take care of himself and ask for things while in the hospital's forensic unit but refused to participate in any treatments or therapies, Miles said.

"It was the refusal that was a big red flag that he was faking," said Miles, who worked at the hospital for 13 years and was the nursing supervisor of the forensic unit. "He wouldn't engage in any way to move himself along."

Mitchell has been diagnosed with a rare delusional disorder and was twice deemed incompetent for trial in a state criminal case. A state judge ordered him held at the hospital in 2005 because the facility works to restore the competency of mentally ill defendants.

Mitchell was moved to the Salt Lake County jail last year after his prosecution began in federal court.

The 10-day hearing in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City will determine if he is mentally competent to stand trial. A ruling from Judge Dale Kimball was not immediately expected.

If eventually convicted, Mitchell could spend the rest of his life in prison.

Mitchell's defense attorneys asked Miles, who now teaches nursing at Brigham Young University, whether his mental illness could be "encapsulated," meaning symptoms or delusions could show up in one area of his life while he was high-functioning in other areas.

Miles said that could be the case.

Defense attorney Robert Steele also asked if Mitchell's habit of hymn singing could be a coping mechanism to soothe himself in stressful situations.

"He wouldn't talk about what was going on, so it's difficult to make assumptions," Miles said.

Mitchell has been removed from court on both days of the hearing for the disruptive singing. He also broke into song at the hospital, but Miles and other staffers testified that Mitchell stopped or started the behavior to control uncomfortable situations.

The same was true of Mitchell's so-called "word fasts" - periods when he refused to speak to staff members or other patients, Miles said. Instead, he wrote notes or gestured to indicate what he needed.

Miles said she "highly" questions whether Mitchell is mentally ill because he doesn't exhibit other associated symptoms such as depression or anxiety.

Garth Rosenlund, who supervised Mitchell at the O.C. Tanner manufacturing company for about six years, said the former tool and die cutter also sang at work when he became agitated or wanted to "go outta touch."

Rosenlund said Mitchell also read out loud from the Book of Mormon and talked to co-workers about his "off the wall" religious beliefs.

In 2000, Mitchell asked a woman who worked at a downtown Salt Lake City shoe store to become his plural wife, testimony showed.

Witness Julia Adkison said she met Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Eileen Barzee, at the mall where they panhandled and preached. Adkison said the couple asked her to sell her engagement ring and join their family during a four-hour meeting in a city park.

"Personally to me, he was just another religious fanatic," said Adkison, who was then 19 and had grown up in a polygamous sect.

Smart was 14 on June 5, 2002, when she was taken from her home at knifepoint. She was found in March 2003 after motorists saw her walking along a suburban street with Mitchell and Barzee, his now-estranged wife.

Barzee pleaded guilty to kidnapping as part of a plea deal that calls for her to cooperate with authorities.

Smart, now 22, gave her testimony in October, saying she was raped after a marriage ceremony staged by Mitchell.

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