Prognoses differ: The defense still says he is delusional; a prosecution witness says his writings show he isn’t
Accused Elizabeth Smart kidnapper Brian David Mitchell‘s song selection is getting stale. On Friday, he opened his ongoing competency hearing by repeating a song he sang in January with lyrics, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven’s at hand.”
But for the first time, Mitchell exhibited anger in court, shouting as bailiffs pulled him from the room: “Ye mockers and scorners, you mock and scorn the holy son of God! You know I speak the truth!”
The outburst coincided with Mitchell’s refusal Friday to listen to updates from his defense team. Because of his disruptive behavior, 3rd District Judge Judith Atherton had ordered defense attorneys to tell Mitchell about the court proceedings in an adjacent holding cell.
But attorney Vernice Trease said Mitchell yelled and sang and refused to listen to her Friday morning. After the lunch break, Trease asked the judge for permission to discontinue the updates, saying she feared that forcing the issue could damage future attempts to communicate with Mitchell.
The competency hearing did not conclude Friday. It is scheduled to last two more days, beginning May 24.
During two prior days of testimony, the defense’s mental health experts claimed Mitchell is incompetent to stand trial. They said his singing is driven by a religious delusion that God is constantly sending him signs.
But the prosecution’s expert, psychiatrist Noel Gardner, testified Friday that while Mitchell may have extreme ideas, he is competent to stand trial. And Gardner stressed that Mitchell’s refusal to participate in his defense is not the result of a mental disorder.
“It flows from an extremist, idiosyncratic, fundamentalist set of religious ideas about reality,” Gardner testified.
Gardner is not LDS. He studied biblical languages and theology in college and said he was raised in a “devout, fundamental, apocalyptic” family who believed “God, Christ and Satan were at war in the universe.”
“To me, the ideas are as familiar as cookies and milk,” Gardner said.
Mitchell has some similar beliefs, which also include that God wants him to bring about the restoration of the Mormon church, as founded by Joseph Smith and including polygamy, following an apocalyptic battle between the forces of light and darkness.
Gardner laid out a number of possible mental disorders cited by the defense, then eliminated them by comparing the symptoms to what he knows of Mitchell.
Gardner ruled out schizophrenia, saying Mitchell’s religious writings are too well-organized to be the product of a delusional mind.
In fact, an expert in Mormon writings told Gardner that Mitchell is the best mimic of LDS Church prophet Joseph Smith he had ever seen.
“He [Mitchell] is extraordinarily gifted in being able to imitate the sound and flow of the writing,” Gardner said. “It’s not gobbledygook. It a has the flavor of a sacred text.”
Also, during Mitchell’s interrogation by FBI agents after his arrest on March 12, 2003, the defendant verbally sparred with the agents in a way no schizophrenic could. “His timing was very precise,” Gardner said. “They’d ask a question, and he’d respond right back.”
Furthermore, Gardner said schizophrenics are unable to maintain eye contact. During an interview at the jail, Gardner said Mitchell maintained eye contact longer than Gardner could.
And at the Utah State Hospital, where Mitchell spent several months under observation in 2003, he promoted his ideas so effectively that several patients became temporary followers, Gardner said.
Gardner also discounted the notion that Mitchell suffers from a delusional disorder, which he said was extremely rare.
When the hearing continues in May, Gardner will begin an analysis of his own diagnoses – that Mitchell has a personality disorder.
Gardner said those with the disorder can have “a normal brain and very dysfunctional behavior.”
Earlier on Friday, defense expert psychologist Stephen Golding clarified his testimony of last month, when he said that at age 16 Mitchell had threatened to “screw his sister’s eyeballs out.” Golding said he was referring to physically removing her eyeballs, not a sexual act.
Golding added that Mitchell might not live long if sent to prison rather than a mental institution. “There is widespread comment [among inmates] about waiting for him to come to prison – and killing him,” Golding said.