Smart case competency hearing begins second week

AP News
Posted: Dec 07, 2009 4:04 AM

A competency hearing for the man accused of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart is entering its second week with the testimony of a psychiatrist who's expected to discuss the suspect's religious writings.

Dr. Michael Welner of New York, who has been paid $500,000 to evaluate Brian David Mitchell for federal prosecutors, takes the stand on Monday.

He has said that Mitchell drafted the "Book of Immanuel David Isaiah II" after his arrest and interrogations by police in March 2003.

In the work, Mitchell addresses the charges levied against him and writes that no weapons or violence were used when Smart was taken from her home in June 2002.

"He clothes his defense in a religious document," Welner said Friday in U.S. District Court. "But it's advocacy, he's making his best argument."

Welner takes the stand on Monday as part of a 10-day hearing in Salt Lake City to determine whether Mitchell, 56, is competent to stand trial.

Welner said the "Book of Immanuel David Isaiah II" is an addendum to a 27-page manifesto written a few months before Smart's abduction.

That tome, the "Book of Immanuel David Isaiah," outlines Mitchell's beliefs, drawing heavily from the Bible and the Book of Mormon, while also including ideas from a New Age spiritualist, a lymphologist and other writers.

Mitchell was indicted in March 2008 by a federal grand jury on charges of kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor across state lines.

If convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in a federal prison.

The competency decision rests with U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball.

Utah's U.S. attorney's office contends that Mitchell is competent _ a conclusion his federal public defenders dispute.

The defense is expected to begin its rebuttal of the case Tuesday. Defense attorneys plan only to call about five witnesses _ all psychologists or psychiatrists who have evaluated or treated Mitchell. The experts include Dr. Jennifer Skeem, an associate professor of psychology and social behavior from the University of California-Irvine. In 2004, she diagnosed Mitchell with a rare delusional disorder during competency proceedings for a state case.

Skeem said Mitchell believed he would be held in jail for seven years until a day of judgment when he would be rescued by God and reunited with Smart and his now-estranged wife, Wanda Eileen Barzee. Last month, Barzee pleaded guilty to charges in the federal case.

A timeline offered by prosecutors Friday said it was after Skeem's finding _ which noted Mitchell could not behave appropriately in court _ that Mitchell began repeatedly singing or shouting during court proceedings. The practice routinely gets him removed to a holding cell.

Welner, who prepared a 205-page report on Mitchell, disputes Skeem's diagnosis. His report is not yet public, but excerpts included in publicly-filed court papers show Welner believes Mitchell is competent and malingering _ or faking an illness _ in order to avoid prosecution.

On Friday, Welner said, he believes Mitchell has the capacity to participate in his own defense.

The testimony followed that of some two dozen other prosecution witnesses who have painted Mitchell as a highly intelligent but self-absorbed, controlling and temperamental man. According to the testimony, Mitchell's history includes an abusive, troubled childhood, failed marriages and allegations of sexual abuse involving young girls that date back to his adolescence.

Welner attempted to interview Mitchell in April, but over five hours, Mitchell mostly sat silently in a chair with his eyes closed.

In a tape of the interview played in court Friday, Mitchell is passive, except for a period of hymn singing, when he aggressively shouts the refrain, "Repent for the kingdom of heaven's at hand." He also reacted when Welner played a video recording of Smart's interview with police. Mitchell's eyes pop open after hearing Smart's voice, he spins his chair around and inches it closer to the screen. His expressions change only slightly _ raising eyebrows and wrinkling his forehead _ as he listens to Smart describe her abduction.

Smart was just 14 when she was taken from her bedroom in June 2002. She was recovered in March 2003 walking a suburban street with Mitchell and Barzee. In October, she testified that she was taken at knifepoint, forced to marry Mitchell within hours of her abduction and raped daily throughout her captivity.