Religious expert analyzes text in Smart case

Associated Press/December 3, 2010

Salt Lake City - An expert in religious texts testified Friday that the writings of the former street preacher accused of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart drew heavily from other religious works, including the Bible and the Book of Mormon.

As the trial for Brian David Mitchell enters its final phase, the testimony of Brigham Young University professor Daniel C. Peterson seemed to support the prosecution's contention that the defendant is a smart, cunning person - an argument that runs counter to defense attorneys' claims that he is mentally ill and can't be held responsible in the case.

Peterson was the first in a string of witnesses federal prosecutors called on Friday to help shape a portrait of Mitchell's character. He told jurors that the 27-page "Book of Immanuel David Isaiah," thought to be an expression of Mitchell's religious beliefs that spells out his divinely inspired calling to battle the Antichrist at the end of the world, was not an entirely original work.

"One of the things that strikes me about the (book) is the barrenness," Peterson said. "In terms of doctrine, there's nothing new."

Peterson said the book, dated April 2002, and a subsequent edition drafted after Mitchell's 2003 arrest quotes heavily from the Bible, particularly the Old Testament and its Book of Isaiah, the Book of Mormon and hymn books. The book also draws from modern writings, including Betty Eadie's story of her near-death experience, "Embraced by the Light."

"I think the composition of these writings is much the way a student would compose a term paper," Peterson said.

Mitchell, 57, is on trial in Salt Lake City's U.S. District Court on charges of kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor across state lines for the purposes of illegal sex. If he is convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in prison.

Smart was 14 when she was kidnapped. Now, 23, she has testified that she was forced to enter a polygamous marriage with Mitchell, endured near daily rapes, was forced to use drugs and alcohol, and was taken to California against her will.

Defense attorneys don't dispute that Smart was taken from her home at knifepoint on June 5, 2002, or held captive for nine months. They argue, however, that Mitchell is mentally ill. They also have said Mitchell believes he is directed by revelations from God.

The defense wrapped it's portion of the case on Thursday, after seven days of testimony from about two dozen witnesses. Prosecutors are expected to present four more days of rebuttal testimony before the jury begins deliberations on Dec. 10.

Peterson said a chief theme of Mitchell's book is the belief that the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has fallen into apostasy. Aside from that, most of Mitchell's beliefs appeared to be consistent with the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Peterson said.

Mitchell was a member of the church, but has been excommunicated.

Also called to testify were some of Mitchell's stepdaughters - from two different wives - about the respective periods that they lived with Mitchell. Both said Mitchell engaged in inappropriate behavior around them.

Heidi Woodridge lived with Mitchell in the early 1980s when she was between the ages of 9 and 12. She described Mitchell as sadistic, recounting a story about him leaving dead mice inside an oven to frighten her mother, who was terrified of mice. She also claimed Mitchell once took photographs of her when she was bathing.

LouRee Gayler, a daughter of Wanda Eileen Barzee, said Mitchell was controlling, and she claimed Mitchell would show her pornography during family prayers and sometimes rub his body against her.

"His hugs were always way too long," she said.

Gayler also said Barzee and Mitchell punished her once by cooking up a pet rabbit "Peaches" and feeding it to her for dinner.

It's not clear whether Woodridge or Gayler ever reported these incidents to police or other authorities who might have investigated the allegations.

Mitchell has not previously been charged with or convicted of crimes involving child sexual abuse.

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