Brian David Mitchell suffers from bizarre delusions, doctor testifies

Published: Thursday, Dec. 2 2010 7:00 a.m. MST

Psychologist Richart DeMier leaves the U.S. District Courthouse in Salt Lake City Thursday after testifying that he believes Brian David Mitchell suffers from a mental illness. Mitchell's mental state has been a major issue in his trial on charges of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The defense for Brian David Mitchell rested Thursday, ending with a psychologist who believes the man accused of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart was mentally ill at the time of the abduction.

Richart DeMier met with Mitchell at the federal prison in Springfield, Mo., when Mitchell was first transferred into federal custody in late 2008 and an initial competency evaluation was ordered. On Thursday, as he did during Mitchell's federal competency hearing in 2009, DeMier said he believed Mitchell had paranoid schizophrenia.

He explained in court that his diagnosis was based partially on his belief that Mitchell suffers from bizarre delusions, which are generally characterized as having ideas that are not plausible.

"Nobody believes that it is possible for Brian Mitchell to be the Davidic king," DeMier said.

If Mitchell had non-bizarre delusions, or ideas that were plausible but highly unlikely, such as being elected president, DeMier said he would have diagnosed him with delusional disorder. But he said the difference between delusional disorder and paranoid schizophrenia was very small.

DeMier was on the witness stand for the majority of the day Thursday, answering oftentimes technical questions such as the differences between delusional disorder and personality disorder, extreme religious views versus delusions, the definition of malingering and why Mitchell didn't seem to be consumed with his religious views 24-7.

He said there wasn't an exact science for determining a delusion versus an extreme religious view, and part of what he did was subjective. But he also said that dealing with people with possible mental illnesses isn't a black and white issue.

"There's a great risk in applying logical rules to an assessment of mental disorder behavior," he said. "Mental illnesses aren't logical."

DeMier also said that he had never had as many records to review for a patient as he had available to him for Mitchell.

DeMier said Mitchell's delusions are both "grandiose" and "paranoid" because he believed he had been ordained by God to undertake a special role and suffer as Christ had suffered, but that he would also be mistreated, harmed and possibly brought close to death before his triumphant return.

Mitchell's delusions differed from extreme religious beliefs, DeMier said. As an example, he said it was interesting to note that even those with extreme religious beliefs have some sort of following. Beyond Mitchell's wife, Wanda Barzee, no one seemed to adhere to Mitchell's religious ideologies.

Even Marshall Applewhite of the Heaven's Gate religious group had at least three dozen followers, who committed suicide with him in 1997.

DeMier said he found Mitchell to be intelligent and he admitted that people with delusions were capable of being good planners.

During Thursday's testimony, clips of several videotaped interviews were shown to the jury. A few of the clips were from DeMier's interviews with Mitchell at the Springfield prison. DeMier conducted six interviews, about half of them videotaped. He stopped taping after the fourth interview because Mitchell declined to do any more interviews in front of a camera.

He believes Mitchell talked to him early on because he just let Mitchell talk about whatever he wanted to talk about.

"He said he'd speak to me as long as he thought my heart and my spirit were open to his message," DeMier said.

But when Mitchell stopped talking to DeMier, he told him, "It's not what's changed, it's what hasn't changed — your heart."

DeMier described Mitchell as appearing disappointed, like he thought he had a chance of breaking through to DeMier with his message.

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