Parents describe struggles during Brian David Mitchell's childhood

Mitchell's first two marriages also were filled with strife

Published: Thursday, Nov. 18 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Brian David Mitchell's disturbed childhood years through his tumultuous second marriage received much of the attention Wednesday during the trial of the man accused of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart.

But several of the people subpoenaed to testify as defense witnesses only seemed to provide additional evidence for the prosecution.

Seven witnesses were called to the stand Wednesday, including Mitchell's parents, Shirl and Irene Mitchell, and two of his sisters. At times, the testimony became emotional as many people from Mitchell's past appeared to still be in disbelief that the boy they once knew could be accused of such a horrendous crime.

"I didn't believe it. I didn't believe it was my Brian," said long-time friend Marlon Peterson, who got choked up when asked for his reaction when he first heard about Mitchell's arrest.

Irene Mitchell, Brian Mitchell's mother, told the court it was difficult for her to be there to testify. She still remembers her son as a little boy.

"What I see now is not the same person. And what he did is painful," she said.

Kayleen Hill, Mitchell's older sister, sent a Christmas card to Mitchell after his arrest. But in it, she also expressed her anger at him.

"I told him I was devastated," she said.

The parade of witnesses started Wednesday with Shirl Mitchell, Brian's father, who slowly made his way to the witness stand Wednesday morning with the help of a walker. His odd testimony at times directly answered the questions he was asked, but at other times seemed to be all over the place and drift off into many tangents.

At times, he seemed to express regret for the way he handled certain situations with his son, such as the time the elder Mitchell tried to teach a then 9-year-old Brian Mitchell a lesson by driving him to an unknown area, dropping him off and making him find his own way home. Brian went to an area in Salt Lake City near the Capitol, where he stayed and just waited.

"He's smart," Shirl Mitchell said. "He said, 'I'm going to make them worry about me. I'm going to stay away all day.' "

He referred to a Or the time he tried to "teach" Brian about sex education by showing him color pictures of genitalia from a medical handbook when he was 8. The sex education lesson came after Mitchell was caught "playing doctor."

Shirl Mitchell said there were "a whole series" of what he called "alienation incidents" between Brian and his family, especially with his younger sister, Lori, and his mother.

"Brian is a very intelligent person. He used that to his full extent in his harassment of other children and my wife," said Shirl Mitchell, who is now divorced from Irene.

Of Brian's relationship with his younger sister, Shirl Mitchell commented, "His relationship with Lori overshadowed everything. It was so combative, she'd whine and whimper about it." He later added, "When she was an adult, she continued to whine when she wanted something."

When Mitchell was 16, he was arrested for exposing himself to an 8-year-old girl and allegedly asking her to touch him, prosecutors said. Shirl Mitchell said the girl's father "overreacted and pulled him to juvenile court."

Shirl Mitchell described his son as isolated from the rest of the family,

"I didn't have too much connection. Maybe that's the trouble, he alienated himself, isolated himself in his own little world. He wasn't really responsive to me or my instruction."

Also when Mitchell was 16, he was sent to live with his grandmother for a few months after constant arguing with his mother, which culminated in a shoving incident.

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