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."
Peterson took issue with DeMier's conclusion, indicating that the writings were not dissimilar to those of other breakaway Mormon groups.
During cross-examination, defense attorneys questioned the grandiose angle more. Peterson admitted, "This book very much has one major theme — Brian David Mitchell."
But he said all prophets could be considered grandiose to a certain extent. And to nonbelievers, their writings and teachings "will come off as arrogant if not mad."
Defense attorneys played a video clip Monday of Barzee speaking with Dr. Michael Welner, the prosecution's key witness. Barzee said that to the best of her knowledge, her estranged husband wrote the books during the night as he received revelation.
But Peterson said that, if true, that makes Mitchell's writings even more remarkable if he wrote without other reference materials. He believes, however, that Mitchell had access to some books because entire chapters of scripture and lists of authors are quoted in his manifestos.
Defense attorney Parker Douglas tried to show that just because someone has an ability to put together quotations or recite scriptures, that alone is not something to base a mental diagnosis on.
Two former psychiatric technicians from the Utah State Hospital also testified Monday.
Tye Jensen, who worked for nearly three years on the same floor where Mitchell was housed, testified that Mitchell kept to himself when he first arrived but after a while, he would have intelligent, well-versed conversations about nutrition, classic literature and classical music with him.
That all changed when Mitchell heard about another patient who was found competent to stand trial based on observations and reports by the hospital's psych techs. It was at that point, according to Jensen, that Mitchell went on a word fast.
While at the hospital, Mitchell also became friends with another patient, John, who became a mentor to him. The two would talk often and read scriptures together. As a result of the friendship, Jensen said Mitchell began self grooming more and watched four or five hours of TV per day.
Mitchell's favorite show was "Charmed," which Jensen described as "a lot of skin and witches."
He said Mitchell would sometimes spend hours "just walking the halls." He would talk to patients often, but seldom talked to staff members.
Former hospital worker David Talley testified that Mitchell's relationship with John, a former state prison inmate, was "like a little puppy dog, like a student-teacher relationship."
The two would often discuss the legal system in addition to religion. Talley said Mitchell understood the court system, he simply didn't want to participate in it because he refused to be "judged by man."
Talley testified that he asked Mitchell one day about his singing in court.
"Why'd you do that?" Talley asked.
"Because I won't be judged by man," Talley said was Mitchell's reply.
"So you're disrupting the system on purpose?"41 comments on this story
"Yes, absolutely," Mitchell replied.
Mitchell remained in the courtroom for only 12 minutes Monday morning before a judge had him removed. Mitchell, who has been kicked out of most court appearances because of his constant singing, sang a selection of Christmas songs Monday — "Joy to the World," "Oh Come All Ye Faithful," "Silent Night," "Away in a Manager" and "Glory to God."
Mitchell was taken into a back room, where he could monitor the courtroom proceedings.