Psychologist says Brian David Mitchell has schizophrenia

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

Published: Sunday, Oct. 4 2015 6:53 p.m. MDT

Drawing of Brian David Mitchell, right, as he appears in federal court in Salt Lake City for a competency hearing. (Joshua Fronk, Deseret News) Drawing of Brian David Mitchell, right, as he appears in federal court in Salt Lake City for a competency hearing. (Joshua Fronk, Deseret News)

A clinical psychologist who evaluated Brian David Mitchell at the U.S. Medical Center in Springfield, Mo., does not believe the man accused of kidnapping and raping Elizabeth Smart is currently competent to stand trial.

Dr. Richart DeMier has worked for 15 years at the federal facility where prisoners are sent for mental evaluations. He diagnosed Mitchell with paranoid schizophrenia. But he noted that a mental disorder alone does not determine competency.

The reasons Mitchell is "not competent to proceed at this time" are because he does not have a rational understanding of the court proceedings and he cannot assist rationally in his defense, DeMier said.

Mitchell does have a factual understanding of the proceedings and has the "nuts and bolts of competency," De Mier said. But he's not "making decisions based on rational information."

For example, Mitchell believes that if he is convicted and sent to prison, he will be delivered out of prison by God in two years, said DeMier. In reality, if convicted, Mitchell will likely spend the rest of his life in prison.

DeMier was one of three expert witnesses who took the stand Wednesday during the eighth day of Mitchell's federal competency hearing.

Mitchell's attending physician at the Utah State Hospital, Dr. Paul Whitehead, has not issued an opinion as to whether Mitchell is competent to stand trial. But he painted a much different picture of the former street preacher than previous witnesses for the government have during the past week. Whitehead did not find Mitchell to be as clever or manipulative as others have, instead using words such as "naive" and "inept" to describe Mitchell and some of his behavior.

Whitehead diagnosed Mitchell as having a delusional disorder complicated by substance abuse. He noted that a person could have a delusional disorder and still be competent. Whitehead based part of his diagnosis on Mitchell's family history, which includes signs of psychosis.

Whitehead raised a prosecution example that Mitchell used manipulation to trade or barter items for things he wanted at the state hospital, such as dental floss or books. "Many of our mentally retarded (patients) can manipulate better than that," Whitehead said of Mitchell's abilities. "He had occasion to be far more manipulative than he was."

Whitehead also disagreed with prosecutors' portrayal of Mitchell as a cunning person who was able to avoid being arrested, despite being confronted by police on at least four different occasions during the nine-month period when Smart was missing. He said an intelligent person would not draw so much attention to himself by walking around downtown Salt Lake City in religious garb with two veiled women at his side.

"I saw him as naive, especially as someone trying to stay below the radar as a pedophile," Whitehead said.

While Mitchell spoke in religious terms during much of the time he was at the hospital, Whitehead said he found his language hard to follow.

"I don't know if he can get it to make sense to other people," he said. "If he speaks for any length of time, it's not going to make sense to people."

Whitehead had similar skepticism of Mitchell's "Book of Immanuel David Isaiah."

"I was surprised he could put things together that well," said Whitehead, adding that he believed much of the book was plagiarism. "I don't think Mr. Mitchell has the capacity to put something together that sophisticated."

Whitehead believed it was for that reason that Mitchell was unable to influence many other people to join his sect.

"He's like a pitcher in the game. He's in the wind up, has an arm, but he's throwing the ball into the bleachers."

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

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company