Mitchell attorney will seek insanity defense in Elizabeth Smart kidnapping trial

Published: Friday, July 2 2010 1:23 a.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Attorneys for Brian David Mitchell, who is accused of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart, say they will seek an insanity defense during their client's upcoming trial in federal court scheduled to begin Nov. 1.

As was expected, defense attorney Robert Steele filed a notice of intent in federal court Thursday informing the court that he intended to seek an insanity defense and would "introduce expert testimony as to mental disease or defect."

In March, Mitchell was found to be competent to stand trial by U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball. Almost immediately, Steele indicated he would pursue an insanity defense.

Mitchell is accused of kidnapping and raping Elizabeth Smart, who was 14 at the time, in 2002 and holding her captive for nine months. After years of hearings in the state court system, Mitchell was determined to be incompetent to stand trial and not eligible for involuntary medication. He was subsequently moved into the federal court system where a competency hearing was held in late 2009.

His estranged wife and co-defendant, Wanda Barzee, after years of treatment at the Utah State Hospital, was finally determined to be competent to stand trial and struck plea deals in both state and federal court. She was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison with credit for the seven years she has already spent in custody, and one to 15 years in state prison. Part of the condition of her plea deal was she was expected to cooperate with the prosecution in Mitchell's upcoming trial, possibly testifying against him.

In court documents filed Thursday, Steele said expert testimony would be given at his client's trial by one or more of the witnesses used by the defense during Mitchell's competency hearing.

In November, Dr. Jennifer Skeem, a forensic psychologist who has interviewed Mitchell; Dr. Richart DeMier, a clinical psychologist who evaluated Mitchell at the U.S. Medical Center in Springfield, Mo.; Mitchell's attending physician at the Utah State Hospital, Dr. Paul Whitehead; and Dr. Stephen Golding, a veteran forensic psychologist, all testified for the defense. Whitehead did not issue an opinion, however, as to Mitchell's competency.

The U.S. Attorney's Office declined comment Thursday on the notice of intent.

Smart is currently serving an LDS mission in France.

In June, defense attorneys filed a motion seeking a change of venue for the high-profile case. Prosecutors were expected to file their reply next week.

e-mail: preavy@desnews.com

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