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Ed Smart 'appalled' at psychiatrist's testimony

Published: Saturday, Dec. 5 2009 12:00 a.m. MST

A startling revelation about the timeline of events during accused Elizabeth Smart kidnapper Brian David Mitchell's state competency hearing in 2005 has raised questions about a report written by Dr. Jennifer Skeem and infuriated the Smart family.

"I was appalled at what (Dr. Michael Welner's) testimony brought forth. I was absolutely sickened," an angry Ed Smart said Friday. "I was just overwhelmed. I was burning. I was furious. I was blown out of the water."

During the fifth day of Mitchell's federal competency hearing Friday, prosecutors called Welner, their key expert witness, to the stand.

Welner, a renowned forensic psychiatrist from New York City, compiled what is believed to be the most extensive study of Mitchell to date. His 205-page report lists 161 sources of information, including interviews with Elizabeth Smart and Mitchell's co-defendant and estranged wife, Wanda Barzee.

Welner confirmed that he billed the U.S. Attorney's Office $500,000 for the report.

Friday, Welner said he had reviewed the report prepared by Skeem in 2004 for Mitchell's state court proceedings. Skeem, a forensic psychologist, was hired by Mitchell's defense team. She initially found Mitchell competent to stand trial, but then changed her opinion to incompetent a short time later.

Welner laid out a timeline of events surrounding Skeem's report. Through September and October of 2004, the defense and prosecution were trying to work out a plea deal in Mitchell's case, Welner said.

On Oct. 15 and Oct. 22, the defense sent letters to prosecutors noting that they had been advised by Mitchell to reject the plea deal. Until that point, Mitchell seemed to be actively engaged in working on a plea agreement with his defense team and there was no mention of a competency issue, Welner said. On Oct. 22, the plea negotiations collapsed.

On Oct. 29, Skeem conducted a six-hour interview with Mitchell. On Nov. 9, she filed a petition for a new competency hearing in 3rd District Court. Skeem felt there had been a marked decline in Mitchell's abilities and that his delusions had taken a dominant role.

In court papers, Skeem said one of the reasons for her request was because of a decline in Mitchell's "ability to manifest appropriate courtroom behavior."

Welner, however, noted that it wasn't until the following hearing on Dec. 2 that Mitchell sang in court for the first time. To that point, Mitchell's courtroom behavior had not been disruptive, he said.

"She had remarkable foresight into the future," Welner said.

After court ended Friday, an infuriated Ed Smart said he was anxious to hear Skeem's explanation.

"I'm hoping to hear a good defense from her. I feel like it is because of that document that he was sent to the mental hospital and this thing has gone on for five years since then," he said. "It shouldn't be this hard, for heaven's sake. I hope we get to the bottom of Skeem. It just makes me sick. It just makes me absolutely sick."

It was revealed Friday that as part of those plea negotiations, Mitchell wanted to prevent Elizabeth from testifying during sentencing. Prosecutors rejected his proposal.

Once plea negotiations broke down, Welner believed Mitchell "made a decision that he needed to derail the process. … Brian Mitchell stopped this train in 2004."

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