Mitchell intimidating, not delusional, witness says
Jurors in the Brian David Mitchell trial on Monday were watching a two-hour video of an FBI agent and a police officer interrogating Mitchell following his arrest for the abduction of Elizabeth Smart.
Prosecutors say Mitchell’s reactions — and his control of the situation — show he was not insane in 2002 when he abducted the then-14-year-old Smart from her Salt Lake City home and raped her over the nine months she spent as his captive.
Smart joined the courtroom gallery Monday to observe testimony. Her father, Ed Smart, has said she plans to view the rest of the trial as a spectator now that her testimony has concluded.
Until Monday, federal jurors’ only experience of Brian David Mitchell was of a man — eyes closed, hands clasped in prayer, softly singing hymns — whom they see for just moments each morning before the judge orders him from the courtroom.
But a different personality emerged as prosecutors played video recordings depicting the homeless street preacher and accused kidnapper of Elizabeth Smart talking to a judge and police officers.
Video of Mitchell’s February 2003 court appearance in San Diego for breaking into a church shows a contrite and apologetic Mitchell giving a false name and lying about “staying with friends” to avoid more jail time.
Mitchell claims the break-in occurred after he got drunk for the first time in 22 years. “Like Jonah getting swallowed by the whale, it’s turned my life around,” Mitchell tells a judge before his release.
Smart has testified Mitchell, now 57, then returned to the primitive campsite where he and his wife, Wanda Eileen Barzee, were keeping the then-14-year-old girl captive.
Another video, recorded March 12, 2003, the day Mitchell and Barzee were arrested in Sandy with Smart, shows Mitchell fending off questions from an FBI agent and a Salt Lake City police detective.
During the two-hour interrogation, detective Cordon Parks and agent Jeffrey Ross come at Mitchell with everything in their arsenal — they yell, they befriend, they belittle, they curse, they quote scripture, they call him a pedophile and a sinner — but Mitchell parries with evasiveness and his own scripture quotations.
In the end, Mitchell admits little more than that he spent the past nine months with the girl.
Mitchell gives the officers his correct date of birth but says his name is Immanuel David Isaiah and gives his home address as “heaven.”
He refuses to admit abducting Smart from her Federal Heights home at knifepoint in the early hours of June 5, 2002.
Mitchell says he is the Lord’s servant, that God “delivered” Smart to him and that the Lord told him she was 18. Mitchell denies “marrying” Smart, saying instead, “She was sealed to me as my wife.”
Asked if he had sex with the girl, Mitchell replies: “These are very personal and private questions.”
At this point, Mitchell appears relaxed, sitting back in his chair with his feet up on another chair.
Threatened with life in prison, Mitchell says: “Do you understand God has the power to deliver me out of the hands of all my enemies?”
The officers tell Mitchell if he confesses, Smart will not have to relive the past nine months on the witness stand.
“She’s had a glorious experience,” Mitchell counters. “We’ve had many trials and tribulations. She knows who I am. She knows I’m a servant of the Lord.” That statement caused Smart and her father, Ed Smart, to exchange looks of amazement in court.
Parks accuses Mitchell of “laying the groundwork” for an insanity defense, so he’ll end up the state hospital rather than prison. Mitchell says he is willing to suffer whatever God has in store for him, but that a mental hospital would be “the worst thing to happen to me.”
Asked if God told him to take Smart on the fall day in 2001 when he worked on the family’s roof and raked leaves, Mitchell accuses the officers of posing “trick questions meant to entrap me.”
Defense witnesses flesh out Mitchell’s earlier life
While working with Brian David Mitchell at O.C. Tanner during the early 1990s, Doug Larsen came to consider his fellow tool-and-die cutter “close to being a brother.”
“He and I hit it off really well. We had a lot of similar views about the world and religion,” Larsen testified Tuesday for the defense at Mitchell’s trial in the alleged kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart.
Several years later, Larsen spotted a transformed, biblical-looking Mitchell begging for money at Main and South Temple streets — a man who now refused to even acknowledge his former friend.
Larsen, hoping to find out what Mitchell had done throughout the years, said: “You gave that guy a ‘God bless you’ for 50 cents. Will you give me five minutes of your time for five dollars?”
Mitchell, money in hand, looked at him and said, “The Lord be praised. God bless you.”
Larsen said, “I will pray for you,” then started to walk away. Mitchell turned and, over his shoulder, said, “And I will pray for you.”
Before that, Mitchell had been a clean-cut and “utterly sincere” member of the LDS Church, who was often ridiculed by other workers at the Salt Lake City jewelry company for singing hymns and zealously expressing his religious opinions. But after Mitchell quit in 1994 and became a follower of a naturopathic health concept called lymphology, Larsen said he lost track of him for four years prior to the Main Street encounter.
Prosecutors rested their case in chief Tuesday morning after four days of testimony that laid out the facts of Smart’s alleged kidnapping and her nine months of captivity and sexual abuse at age 14 in the hands of Mitchell, 57, and his wife, Wanda Eileen Barzee, 65.
Now, with the start of the defense case, comes what U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball has identified as the real focus of the trial.
Larsen’s testimony — and more to come this week from other defense witnesses who knew Mitchell prior to Smart’s June 2002 disappearance — is designed to illustrate Mitchell’s alleged descent into madness.
The defense is asking jurors to find Mitchell not guilty by reason of insanity. It also has the burden of proving he was insane at the time of the alleged crime.
To that end, Mitchell’s father and other family members are slated to testify Wednesday about Mitchell’s childhood and teenage years. Barzee, who pleaded guilty to kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor and is serving 15 years in prison, could take the witness stand as early as Thursday.
She is being held in the Davis County jail as she waits to give her testimony.