Witnesses: Mitchell tailors song routine for a select audience

The Salt Lake Tribune/December 2, 2009

In the past several years, Brian David Mitchell has been removed from all of his court hearings because he refuses to stop singing.

But while Mitchell is being transported to the federal courthouse and after he's taken out of the courtroom, the singing is absent, two deputy U.S. marshals testified Wednesday.

"Anytime he's in our presence, he's quiet and compliant," Jonathan Burnett said at a hearing to determine whether Mitchell is mentally competent to stand trial in the 2002 abduction of Elizabeth Smart.

The exception, according to Burnett and fellow deputy marshal Dan Juergens, was when Smart testified Oct. 1 as part of the competency determination.

On that day, Mitchell started shouting, "Repent, repent," as he was about to be taken from the Salt Lake County jail to the federal courthouse, Juergens testified. Burnett said Mitchell continued to sing after he was placed in a nearby room to watch the proceedings on a live video feed.

Prosecutors allege Mitchell is faking psychological symptoms to avoid prosecution. Defense attorneys say he is delusional and sings as a way to soothe himself. Mitchell has been removed from hearings in the state's 3rd District Court, where he also faces charges in the abduction, for singing and shouting.

Mitchell was calm before his first appearance last year in federal court, but began singing when he entered Magistrate Samuel Alba's courtroom, Juergens said. After Alba ordered marshals to take him into another room and gag him, Mitchell went limp and had to be carried out, he said.

Once they were outside the courtroom, Mitchell stopped singing and started walking, Juergens testified.

An FBI agent also testified Wednesday, saying Mitchell was "extremely careful" in how he answered questions during interrogations after his arrest and behaved as if he were on the witness stand in court.

"He was very calculated," Special Agent George Dougherty said.

When asked if he had considered how society would view him, Mitchell replied, "As a child predator, sexual deviant and monster," according to the agent.

Dougherty, who interviewed Mitchell four times in the days after his arrest, said the street preacher told him he could hear searchers calling for Smart the night she was taken from her home. He said Smart was never gagged but was "bound by the false traditions of society," Dougherty said.

During the interviews, Mitchell asked about the legal process he was facing and appeared to understand his rights, Dougherty said.

In other testimony, Richard Forbes, a retired sheriff's deputy who is an expert on cults, said there are similarities between Mitchell and the late Ervil LeBaron, the leader of a polygamous sect.

He said both men - who were raised as Mormons and excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- claimed to be the "one mighty and strong," used revelations to control their followers and believed in plural marriage. Both believed that "lies, crimes and deception" were acceptable if they were done under their authority, Forbes said.

LeBaron, founder of the Church of the First Born of the Lamb of God, was convicted of masterminding the 1978 killing of rival polygamist leader Rulon Allred in Murray.

While in prison, LeBaron drew up a hit list of people he wanted killed for defying his authority. He died in 1981 at the Utah State Prison. Forbes said he believes LeBaron was responsible for 28 homicides.

The hearing began Monday and is expected to last two weeks.

The case so far against Mitchell, Barzee


Brian David Mitchell, 56, and his wife, Wanda Eileen Barzee, 64, are accused of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart on June 5, 2002, from her Federal Heights home. They were arrested in March 2003 while walking in Sandy with the girl.


A judge in the state's 3rd District Court has ruled Mitchell cannot be forcibly medicated to try to restore his mental competency; the same judge ruled Barzee could be forcibly medicated, a process that began at the Utah State Hospital in May 2008.


The state court ruling led the U.S. Attorney's Office to begin a case against the couple. A federal grand jury issued an indictment last year charging Mitchell and Barzee with kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor.

Competence ruling

Doctors at the State Hospital said this fall that they believe Barzee is now mentally competent. She pleaded guilty on Nov. 17 to the federal charges and agreed to testify against Mitchell in exchange for a 15-year prison term.

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