Witness: Suspect in Smart case has disorder

AP News
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Posted: Dec 08, 2009 7:19 PM

The man charged in the 2002 abduction of Elizabeth Smart has a delusional disorder and exhibited deviant sexual behavior and paranoia as a teen, a forensic psychologist said Tuesday.

Psychologist Stephen Golding testified as the first defense witness in the federal competency hearing for 56-year-old Brian David Mitchell.

Golding previously found Mitchell incompetent to stand trial in a state case involving the abduction that grabbed the attention of the nation.

Tuesday, Golding challenged the testimony of Dr. Michael Welner, a forensic psychiatrist who is the key prosecution witness. Welner has cited Mitchell's use of strategic thinking as possible evidence of competency.

"Engaging in strategic behavior is not inconsistent with delusional thinking," Golding said, adding that people who are delusional can be high-functioning in some areas of their life.

Golding believes Mitchell, a former street preacher, has "referential thinking" and ascribes special meaning to ordinary experiences. For example, a stranger's act of kindness toward Mitchell when he was homeless or his ability to avoid capture by police were viewed as signs that his actions were sanctioned by God, Golding said.

Golding testified that religious-based delusions left Mitchell believing he was being pressured or commanded to do certain things. Based on an account in the writings of Wanda Eileen Barzee, Mitchell's now-estranged wife, those messages came as emotionally distressing revelations, Golding said.

"Mr. Mitchell's ego, his self, was constantly warring with what he thought he needed to do," Golding explained. "Over time it developed into a pretty frank delusional disorder."

Prosecutors contend Mitchell is competent to stand trial on federal charges of kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor across state lines. Welner disputes the diagnosis of Mitchell as delusional and believes he is faking mental illness to avoid prosecution.

Welner also testified that he doesn't think Mitchell's religious beliefs are sincere, and that Mitchell's participation in plea deal negotiations in 2004 was proof of his ability to aid his own defense.

In his testimony, Golding said Mitchell rejected a last-chance deal because he believed county prosecutors were being directed by Satan, and God wanted him to suffer the fate of a trial and conviction.

Weeks later, Mitchell began habitually singing hymns during court proceedings and was subsequently found incompetent for trial.

Golding, however, believes Mitchell wants to be found competent so he can fulfill a prophecy that he will be martyred. As proof, Golding read from a transcript of an interview of Smart by mental health professionals after she was found in 2003.

In the transcript, Smart said Mitchell told her he would marry seven wives then return to the Salt Lake valley, where he would be captured and martyred before God would raise him up so he could battle and defeat the antichrist in a Mormon temple, Golding said.

"For him, this (court proceeding) is a distraction," Golding said. "He wants to get to the next level."

Smart was 14 when she was taken from her bedroom in June 2002. She was found in March 2003 walking a suburban street with Mitchell and Barzee, who has pleaded guilty to kidnapping in the federal case.

The competency hearing is expected to last through Friday.

Smart, now 22, has not attended the current proceedings but her parents, Ed and Lois Smart, have been present.

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