Stepdaughters provide emotional testimony of abuse by Brian David Mitchell

Published: Friday, Dec. 3 2010 7:00 a.m. MST

Escorted by two Federal Agents Heidi Woodridge, a step daughter of Brian David Mitchell leaves the trial at Federal Court .

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Two of Brian David Mitchell's stepdaughters provided emotional testimony Friday in the trial of the man accused of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart.

"He wanted to be more powerful than anything else. He wanted to be God-like," said LouRee Gayler, Mitchell's stepdaughter from his marriage to Wanda Barzee.

Both Gayler and Heidi Woodridge, a stepdaughter from Mitchell's second marriage to Debbie Woodridge, took the stand as rebuttal witnesses for the prosecution. Each spoke of severe abuses they suffered during the time they lived with Mitchell. Both said Mitchell was very controlling and they did not believe he was mentally ill at the time.

Shortly after taking the witness stand, Gayler was asked to point out her former stepfather in a family picture projected on a screen.

"I had no choice in the matter," she said, commenting on their relation.

In 1986 when Gayler was 12, she moved in with Barzee and Mitchell. From the beginning Mitchell attempted to dominate both women, sometimes in physical ways.

"Sometimes my mother would scream at night, I didn't know what it was about, I was afraid to look," she said. "It seemed more like a struggle, like he was overpowering her."

Gayler said she was never allowed to use the phone or go out with friends or have friends come over. The only time she was allowed to leave the apartment was for church and work. She said Mitchell and Barzee made her get a job, and then took every one of her paychecks.

"They were greedy. There was nothing that was enough for them. They always wanted more," she said.

Gayler said Mitchell always had to be touching Barzee or herself, as if to show his dominance. Sometimes the touching was inappropriate, she said. But she was also afraid of his wrath and didn't want to do anything to get him angry.

Near the end of her stay with the couple, Gayler convinced Mitchell to allow friends over to watch "Grease" for her 14th birthday. Mitchell found the movie objectionable, however, and abruptly ended the party and threw everyone out. To get back at him, Gayler said she and her friends filled paper bags with feces, peanut butter and syrup and "bombed" her own home.

It wasn't long after that Gayler came home from work one day and was told chicken was being served for dinner. The next morning, Gayler went to feed her pet rabbit, "Peaches," only to find she was missing. She went to ask Barzee where her rabbit was. Barzee was laughing.

"She told me I ate her for dinner last night," Gayler said, choking back tears while recounting the story. "(Peaches) was the only thing that loved me unconditionally and was my escape."

A few times, when Gayler was forced to pray with Mitchell and Barzee at night, Mitchell would pull out a box from under his bed. In the box were clippings of naked women from magazines. Gayler said while Mitchell was praying and Barzee apparently had her eyes closed, he would nudge Gayler and make her look at the pornographic images.

Mitchell was very conscious of his appearance when he went out in public, she testified. "He would present himself in whatever form he wanted everyone to see him."

He also spent a lot of time reading books about convicted serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, survival books and how to get the upper hand on people.

"It was an obsession of his to always have the upper hand," Gayler said. "He thought people were his puppets in a way. He was very smart, he was almost too smart. He thought he had a lot of control over everybody."

Mitchell enjoyed playing games with Gayler's and Barzee's minds, she said. Mitchell would act one way in church as if putting on an act, and then another way once he got home.

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