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Psychologist says Brian David Mitchell has schizophrenia

Doctor doesn't think he's competent to stand trial at this time

Published: Thursday, Dec. 10 2009 12:00 a.m. MST

During cross examination, Whitehead admitted, however, that the treatment team who attended to Mitchell (which included Whitehead) "thought he was fairly close to being competent."

Whitehead also acknowledged during cross-examination that he found Dr. Jennifer Skeem's first evaluation of Mitchell was more in line with what he was seeing than her second report. Skeem concluded in her first report that Mitchell was "situationally competent," and she then later determined him incompetent.

When pressed by the prosecution, Whitehead admitted he believes Mitchell could come into the courtroom and act appropriately if he wanted to and that his singing outbursts in court are not an indicator of competency.

Earlier Wednesday, Dr. Michael Welner returned to the witness stand to finish defending his evaluation of Mitchell. The New York psychiatrist, who is the government's key expert witness, believes Mitchell is competent to stand trial and does not suffer from a mental illness.

Defense attorney Robert Steele questioned why Welner did not extensively include Whitehead's evaluation of Mitchell in his report. Welner said he did speak with Whitehead on the phone for 15 to 30 minutes and did not ignore his findings. But Welner said his report wasn't about Whitehead.

"This is about Brian Mitchell. It's not about Dr. Whitehead, it's not about Dr. Skeem, it's not about Dr. Golding," Welner said. Skeem and Stephen Golding are defense expert witnesses who believe Mitchell is incompetent.

Welner further defended his interviews of dozens of former and current psychiatric technicians at the state hospital, saying they provided important information about Mitchell and his competency.

Whitehead, on the other hand, was heavily influenced by reports from Skeem and 3rd District Judge Judith Atherton's decision declaring Mitchell incompetent, Welner said, because Mitchell would not speak with Whitehead.

"I had the benefit of having a lot of information (Whitehead) didn't have," Welner testified. "I feel for Dr. Whitehead. He is in a situation of tremendous scrutiny."

Mitchell also refused to speak to Welner. Welner cited more than 160 sources for his evaluation of Mitchell, including Smart and Barzee. Welner said he might have reached the same conclusion as Whitehead reached if he had not spoken with other members of the hospital staff.

Additional portions of Welner's videotaped interview with Mitchell's estranged wife and codefendant Wanda Barzee were shown in court Wednesday. In the video, Barzee looks distressed, with a blank stare on her face as she talks about how she didn't want to kidnap Smart, nor did she want to share Mitchell or teach Smart about sex. Yet Barzee also says in the interview that she encouraged Mitchell to go through with the kidnapping.

In another contradiction, Barzee describes Mitchell as being both nervous and calm, but she also mentions her husband was yelling at her and describes his temper as "explosive."

Welner compared Barzee to a jigsaw puzzle that had been thrown all over the floor and was now trying to piece itself back together. "Wanda Barzee continues to be a person who on some level is quite impaired, but yet she's competent," he said.

In reaching his conclusions about Mitchell, Welner said he chose not to consider writings from journals that Smart and Barzee kept during Smart's time in captivity because they are filled with "numerous inaccuracies."

"Brian Mitchell was supervising these writings. He was monitoring what was being written," said Welner, who called the writings "self-serving narratives" that were meant to be a "part of creating the appearance of an emerging faith."

e-mail: preavy@desnews.com

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