13 Nov 2010

Mental competency hearing begins for Mormon fundamentalist abductor of Elizabeth Smart

The Salt Lake Tribune - November 30, 2009

Elizabeth Smart abduction case continues with competency hearing
Witnesses » Experts, ecclesiastical leader and police will take the stand.

by Pamela Manson | Salt Lake Tribune

For two weeks, psychiatrists, law-enforcement officers, relatives and others will give their opinions and impressions of Brian David Mitchell, the street preacher accused of the 2002 abduction of Elizabeth Smart.

The testimony, which starts Monday, will help U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball decide whether Mitchell is competent, and therefore able to understand the charges against him and assist his lawyers in his defense.

The decision could send the alleged kidnapper back to Utah State Hospital or move the case closer to a trial. The ruling is not expected immediately. Mitchell, 56, is being held in a Salt Lake County jail.

Mitchell was first charged in the state's 3rd District Court, where mental-health experts who testified at a competency hearing were divided over his fitness to stand trial. Judge Judith Atherton ruled in 2005 that he was not competent and sent him to Utah State Hospital for treatment.

Atherton ruled in later hearings that Mitchell was still incompetent and that he could not be forcibly medicated to try to restore his competency because the likelihood of success was too low. The U.S. Attorney's Office then brought the case to a federal grand jury, which indicted Mitchell last year. The charges started a new round of evaluations and litigation over his mental state.

Court records indicate that two psychiatrists believe Mitchell is mentally competent, while three psychologists believe he is incompetent. All are expected to testify at the hearing.

Also on the list are Richard Forbes, a retired police officer who has studied cults and taught a class on the subject at Salt Lake Community College; and Daniel Peterson, a professor of Islamic studies and Arabic at Brigham Young University. The two will testify that the psychologists who found Mitchell incompetent "seriously misjudged" his religious writing, according to court records. Prosecutors say Mitchell wanted to make Smart a plural wife.

Other witnesses include Mitchell's mother-in-law, former neighbors, acquaintances, employees at Utah State Hospital, ecclesiastical leaders and people the self-proclaimed prophet befriended when he needed food or shelter. Some will take the stand, while the observations of others will be incorporated in the testimony of the mental-health experts who interviewed them for their own reports.

Smart testified Oct. 1 about her interactions with Mitchell. Her testimony was taken early because she was entering language training to prepare for a mission to Paris for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The case

Brian David Mitchell, 56, and his wife, Wanda Eileen Barzee, 64, are accused of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart on June 5, 2002, from her Federal Heights home. They were arrested in March 2003 while walking in Sandy with Smart.

A judge in the state's 3rd District Court has ruled Mitchell cannot be forcibly medicated to try to restore his mental competency; the same judge ruled Barzee could be forcibly medicated, a process that began at the Utah State Hospital in May 2008.

The state court ruling led the U.S. Attorney's Office to begin a case against the couple. A federal grand jury issued an indictment last year charging Mitchell and Barzee with kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor.

Doctors at the Utah State Hospital said this fall that they believe Barzee is now mentally competent. She pleaded guilty on Nov. 17 to the federal charges in exchange for a 15-year prison term.

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