13 Nov 2010

Expert for defense says Smart abductor incompetent to stand trial because of delusional religious beliefs

Deseret News - Utah December 8, 2009

Expert calls Brian David Mitchell delusional

Psychologist is first witness for defense in competency hearing

By Pat Reavy

Brian David Mitchell believed he had to follow the commands of God when he allegedly kidnapped Elizabeth Smart and now wants to be martyred, an expert witness testified Tuesday.

The defense in Mitchell's federal competency hearing called its first witness to the stand Tuesday, on the seventh day of a scheduled 10-day hearing.

Dr. Stephen Golding, a veteran forensic psychologist, has testified in such cases as the competency of convicted killers Ronald Lafferty and Ronnie Lee Gardner. Golding, who testified Lafferty was competent, believes Mitchell is incompetent to stand trial for kidnapping and raping Smart.

Golding said he looked at delusionality versus fundamentalism. When Mitchell experienced revelations, Golding said, they were distressing and disturbing.

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

Mitchell was continuously struggling with what he thought God wanted him to do compared to what he wanted to do. Golding called it a struggle between Mitchell's "carnal man and his spiritual self."

"His entire life after he became delusional is looking for signs of what to do," he said.

But that didn't mean that his delusions were constant, Golding said.

Throughout the afternoon, defense attorneys and prosecutors traded jabs at the evaluations and reports conducted by the other's expert witnesses, trying to discredit them by pointing out contradictions.

Dr. Michael Welner, the prosecution's key expert witness, and Dr. Noel Gardner testified last week that Mitchell's alleged delusions were not constant, which was part of the reason he did not suffer from a delusional disorder.

"Welner and Gardner have a Victorian view of delusionality," Golding countered Tuesday. "Delusionality waxes and wanes … it's not rigid. It's not fixed. It fluctuates. … The point is, delusionality is inside's someone's head. It's not that it shuts off."

During cross-examination, prosecutor Alicia Cook said Mitchell told Dr. Richart DeMier, the federal government's evaluator in Springfield, Mo., that he could choose to disobey God if he wanted, that God was "forgiving" and "anxious to forgive him," and that he had an "inward feeling of peace and surety" when he received revelations.

Golding dismissed those statements as another way of Mitchell trying to be found competent to expedite his martyrdom. "I basically don't believe what Mr. Mitchell was telling DeMier," he said.

DeMier is listed as a potential defense witness as he found Mitchell incompetent to stand trial.

Golding believed early signs of psychotic behavior were evident in Mitchell's youth, including worsening paranoia, until he reached a point where he just "fell off the cliff." He contended Welner dismissed, misrepresented or misquoted the psychological evaluation Mitchell had as a youth.

Golding further criticized Welner's method of putting together his report. Welner cited more than 160 interviews for his evaluation, including many former and current psychiatric techs at the Utah State Hospital. Many of those employees testified that Mitchell would often watch the TV show "Charmed."

"I don't need to know endlessly how many psych techs know what," Golding said. "How many hours he watches TV or prays are not indicators or measures of delusions."

Golding further dismissed Welner's notion that Mitchell began a "word fast," or stopped talking to hospital staff, after he learned his conversations with staff members may be used in a competency hearing.

"It just makes a mockery of the facts," Golding said.

During his testimony, Golding also referred to Mitchell's codefendant and estranged wife Wanda Barzee's own writings in which she said Mitchell "became consumed in his weakness of fearing" just days before Smart was kidnapped and that she was "holding the Lord to his word (and telling Mitchell to) accomplish what the Lord has commandeth" in taking Smart for a bride.

During cross examination, Cook pointed out that Barzee, who was found competent this year to stand trial after being given anti-psychotic medication, said in a recent interview that Mitchell had deceived her and that Mitchell was in fact not nervous prior to the kidnapping.

As part of Golding's analysis, he said Mitchell used "referential thinking," meaning he ascribes special significance to ordinary experiences.

To explain, Golding discussed the controversial timeline prosecutors had earlier raised regarding a time in October of 2004 when Mitchell stopped actively participating in a plea negotiation. Shortly after that, his defense attorneys filed motions for a new competency hearing, arguing that Mitchell's delusions had prevented him from assisting in his defense.

Mitchell believed that a letter from prosecutor Kent Morgan, which contained a final plea offer, was a sign from God that he should stop with negotiations altogether and go through with a trial. Mitchell believed "that despite his fears and doubts … he needed to be martyred," Golding said.

Mitchell believes he will be convicted of the crimes he is charged with, become a martyr and that the Lord will then raise him up and he'll lead the children of Israel out of darkness, Golding testified. Because of those delusional beliefs, Mitchell can't assist in his own defense, he said.

As far as court proceedings, Mitchell "wants to get it over with to get martyred," Golding said. "To him, all of this is a distraction. He wants to get to the next level."

While Welner described Mitchell as a scheming, plotting man taking precautions to avoid being captured, Golding said Mitchell took these things as a sign that his actions were sanctioned by God because he was not caught.

Prosecutors, Tuesday, tried to reaffirm the notion of a manipulative and scheming Mitchell, noting that he had Smart tied to a chain for the first six weeks to two months of her captivity. They also brought up an incident in which Mitchell, Barzee and Smart, whose faces was hidden by a veil, were confronted by a police officer at the Salt Lake City Library. Mitchell was able to successfully talk his way out of the situation without being discovered. After the officer walked away, Smart started crying, Cook said. Mitchell told her to stop because it would give them away, she said.

Golding dismissed the notion that Mitchell was malingering, or faking an illness to avoid prosecution.

"What does Mitchell gain by being incompetent?" he asked.

Cook pointed out that information had been received from inmates at the Utah State Prison, that Golding was made aware of, that some inmates were "waiting for Mitchell to come to the prison to kill him."

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