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Elizabeth Smart kidnapper shares LeBaron traits, expert says

Published: Thursday, Dec. 3 2009 12:00 a.m. MST

Brian David Mitchell and a murderous polygamous family patriarch shared many similar traits and operated in very similar ways, an expert on religious cults and their members who commit crimes testified Wednesday.

Richard Forbes, a retired law enforcer for both Salt Lake and Los Angeles counties, investigated killers Ervil LeBaron and Charles Manson during his career. Forbes is an expert on LeBaron and his followers.

During the third day of Mitchell's competency hearing in federal court, Forbes compared the man accused of kidnapping and raping Elizabeth Smart to LeBaron and other religious cult leaders.

Both men used revelation as a tool to get what they wanted, Forbes said.

"He basically used the same type of revelations that Ervil did," Forbes said of Mitchell. "They're very similar in that Brian David used revelations to control the movements of him, his wife and Elizabeth Smart. I think he used the excuse of a revelation to get people to do things he didn't want to do."

In comparing the two figures, Forbes noted that Mitchell and LeBaron were both raised in LDS environments; were later excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but continued to maintain a belief in church founder Joseph Smith and his teachings; and controlled those around them by using their own interpretations of revelations and threats of death.

Many times during Smart's nine-month captivity, Mitchell threatened to kill her and her family if she tried to escape, Forbes said. LeBaron often actually followed through on his threats.

LeBaron is believed to have been responsible for the murders of more than 20 people, mainly former followers, in several states, including Texas and Utah. He was convicted of orchestrating the murder of an opponent and sentenced to the Utah State Prison, where he died in 1981. LeBaron was never determined to be incompetent to stand trial.

Forbes also said both men claimed to be "the one mighty and strong," which he said is a common claim among cult leaders.

He compared Mitchell's "Book of Immanuel David Isaiah" with LeBaron's "Book of the New Covenant." In both sets of religious writings, each man claims he received the keys from God to lead people out of a corrupt society, Forbes said. Whereas Mitchell referred to himself as a prophet, LeBaron called himself, among other things, the third part of the Holy Trinity or the Holy Ghost, the "mouthpiece of God" and the "foremost man who now helps people shape up."

Both Mitchell and LeBaron violated the "rules of man" that prohibit crimes including killings and rapes and kidnappings, but both men justified their actions because they believed they were given the authority by God to do so, Forbes testified.

He also compared characteristics of the way Mitchell and LeBaron acted with the operation of cults such as Heaven's Gate, as well as others led by Manson, David Koresh and Jim Jones. Such cults used persuasive recruitment, isolation techniques to separate recruits from their environments and families, and indoctrination.

One of the ways Forbes noted that Mitchell was different from LeBaron, however, was that Mitchell forced people, such as Smart, into his group.

Wednesday's hearing started with an FBI agent who interviewed Mitchell on four different occasions in the days immediately following his arrest in 2003.

Special agent George Dougherty said Mitchell was calculated in his answers and seemed to have an understanding of the legal system or could process enough information that he understood what he was being told.

During one interview, Mitchell "wanted to know what the next step was" in the legal proceedings against him, Dougherty said.

When the agent asked about the kidnapping, he said Mitchell told him, "She was able to return anytime she wanted to."

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