Witnesses describe Mitchell as intelligent but controlling

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 1 2009 1:19 a.m. MST

BYU professor Daniel Peterson, right, discusses Brian David Mitchell's written works.

Michelle Christensen, Deseret News

Brian David Mitchell is an extremely intelligent but also a controlling and manipulating man, according to those who know him or have studied his work.

That was how the man accused of kidnapping and sexually assaulting Elizabeth Smart was characterized Monday during the first day of his 10-day federal competency hearing. Four of the government's 24 witnesses took the stand, including a religion professor from BYU, two former workers from the Utah State Hospital and the youngest daughter of Wanda Barzee, Mitchell's estranged wife and co-defendant.

The day's most gripping testimony came from LouRee Gaylor, Barzee's daughter who lived with her mother and Mitchell from the time she was 12 until she ran away from them when she was 14 to live with her father.

Gaylor, now 34, said her mother had already been sexually abusive and wasn't in a healthy state of mind when she moved in with Mitchell. But Mitchell made things worse by trying to control everyone around him.

"He's always been very calculated," she said. "He was dominating in his tone, the way he talked to you."

Gaylor called Mitchell "isolated" and "creepy" but also "incredibly smart" and "very disciplined." Mitchell was always bringing home books from the library and reading. Many of his books were on wilderness survival, hypnotism and mind control, and books on serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, she said.

Mitchell and Barzee only let Gaylor out of the house for church activities and work. She was not allowed to watch TV, and she would spend hours praying in their bedroom with them, she said. They would also punish her if she didn't do things they wanted.

She recalled one incident when she came home and asked what was for dinner. Barzee simply laughed and said "chicken," she recalled.

It wasn't until the next day she discovered the dinner had actually been her pet rabbit, Peaches.

"They fed her to me for dinner," she said.

Mitchell would also inappropriately hug Gaylor and nuzzle close to her at night while she was in her bed, she testified. Her mother would openly talk about her sexual activity.

"I got the impression they were trying to invite me into their activity … trying to get me to join their relationship, also," she said.

Monday's hearing also focused on the writings of Mitchell — in which he claims God chose him to lead his people. Daniel Peterson — a professor of Islamic and Arabic studies at BYU, an LDS bishop and a person who spends his days studying and analyzing religious text — said the writings were intelligently written, coherent and "marinated in scripture."

He dissected the "Book of Immanuel David Isaiah," both the first and second volumes. The first set was written by the street preacher between 2002 and 2005. The second set, which is about 10 pages, was written by Mitchell during the past year.

"It's quite well done," Peterson said. "The quasi-scriptural language is very well-handled."

Specifically, Mitchell's writings are deep with allusions related to mainstream LDS teachings, Peterson said. A person who has knowledge of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would likely understand more of Mitchell's writings than a person from another religion, he said, because the writings heavily borrow from the Bible, Book of Mormon and other LDS scripture.

"It's astonishing how many references there are to previously canonized scriptures," he said. "It's a quite impressive production. … These are not poorly chosen examples. They are very sophisticated."

Prosecutors attempted to pick apart a report from Dr. Richart DeMier, who concluded that Mitchell was incompetent to stand trial after Mitchell was sent to a federal facility in Springfield, Mo., last year. In his report, DeMier classified Mitchell's writings as "grandiose" and wrote, "certainly, his beliefs are in conflict to the mainstream LDS Church."

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