After 10 days, almost 30 witnesses and hours of testimony, the federal competency hearing of accused Elizabeth Smart kidnapper Brian David Mitchell concluded on Friday.
For two weeks, prosecutors have painted a picture of a manipulative, cunning, intelligent, articulate and often times loud former street preacher who used religion as a way to obtain sex. He is a man who can turn his religious persona on and off at will, just as he has the capacity to sit in a courtroom without singing if he chooses, they say.
The defense has portrayed Mitchell as a man who has had psychotic tendencies since he was a teenager, due in part to his family history, who later in life "fell off a cliff" with his delusions. They say he is a man with a psychotic disorder who believes he is under tremendous pressure to do God's will and is constantly looking for "signs."
Mitchell believes he needs to go to trial, be convicted and sent to prison so he can suffer as Jesus Christ did, before God will free him and allow him to deliver the children of Israel out of darkness, according to the defense.
Mitchell is accused of kidnapping and raping Elizabeth Smart in 2002, taking her to California, and then returning to Utah where he was arrested in 2003. A ruling on his competence may not come until early next year.
"I feel confident that he will be found competent," Ed Smart, Elizabeth's father, said after the hearing.
A large number of Elizabeth Smart's relatives, her parents, uncles, aunts, grandparents and siblings — including her sister Mary Katherine, now 17, who provided investigators with the key piece of information in 2003 that eventually led to Mitchell's arrest — attended Friday's hearing as a show of support.
"What happened, to me, this week was the trial," Ed Smart said. "There is not a question of whether he is guilty or not. (Mitchell) is as guilty as they come."
Also in attendance for much of the two-week hearing was Mitchell's stepdaughter from his second marriage, Rebecca Woodridge.
"I believe he is incompetent and needs help," she said. "He is a sick man. I do not believe this is an act."
Woodridge admitted that she was molested by Mitchell as a child, but that she had forgiven him and he was not a sexual deviant. She believes the prosecution's portrayal of her stepfather was a bit "harsh and judgmental" and said not all the facts came out. Although she said it didn't excuse his actions, she believes Mitchell was a product of an abusive childhood in which he was sexually abused himself.
"I don't think he deserves to be locked up in a prison without getting any kind of help," she said.
U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman, however, said that as long as Mitchell is in limbo in the legal system and not held accountable for his crimes, he continues to victimize the Smart family.
"They say justice delayed is justice denied, and that applies in this case," he said.
This is a case of two faces, Tolman told U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball during closing arguments: Mitchell and the woman who until this hearing had been silent, Elizabeth Smart. Until this hearing, Tolman said he believed Mitchell thought Smart's voice would be "the one he probably thought would never be voiced."
On Oct. 1, Smart started the competency hearing by delivering a remarkable account of her nine months in captivity. Tolman said her testimony was able to "set the record straight" about Mitchell's true character and motivations.
Smart, who was allowed to testify early because of her LDS mission call, did not attend any of the hearing after her time on the stand. Ed Smart said had not talked to his daughter since the hearing resumed two weeks ago, and noted that he didn't need to.
"She knows what happened. She was there," he said.
One of the key differences between the just-completed federal hearing and the state hearing, in which Mitchell was ruled incompetent to stand trial, was the use of numerous staff members at the Utah State Hospital who testified about their observations of Mitchell when he wasn't being officially evaluated by a professional, Tolman said.
"Mr. Mitchell has been competent to stand trial since he was arrested," he said.
Mitchell's defense team, however, said their client's beliefs are delusional and bizarre and he is mentally ill.
"His rational appreciation of these things is his belief he's only being held according to God's will" and that he is simply waiting for his "miraculous release," defense attorney Robert Steele said.
"I do not believe the question before the court is whether he's assisting counsel," Steele said. "Is this non-participation driven primarily by a delusional belief system or primarily by his desire to undermine the process?"
In closing arguments, Tolman again referenced Dr. Jennifer Skeem's two evaluations of Mitchell in 2004 for his state legal proceedings. The first found him "situationally competent" while the second, just a few months later, found him incompetent. It was a pivotal point in the history of the Smart case, he said.
During testimony Friday, Skeem returned the witness stand to again defend her note taking, previous testimony and two evaluations. She said her first evaluation of Mitchell was a "blue plate special" in that her first report was "for that time period (only) and allowed no substitution."
She said at that time, Mitchell was contemplating accepting a plea deal. Even though in pleading guilty Mitchell believed he would be able to "bear his testimony and suffer as Christ did," Skeem said Mitchell believed accepting a plea deal might mean a reduced sentence.
"Mr. Mitchell's delusions had left him with one precious rational reason," Skeem said.
She determined that Mitchell was "situationally competent" at that time because Mitchell was involved with and generally understood at least part of the plea negotiations.
But Skeem noted that being situationally competent means that symptoms can change over time. "The hope was frankly he could hold it together long enough," she said of Mitchell.
Mitchell stopped actively participating in plea negotiations, however, after prosecutors sent a letter to the defense declining their counter-offer and giving them a deadline to respond to their original offer. Mitchell viewed the offer as "hostile" and as a sign that he was being tempted by Satan to accept a plea deal. Mitchell then decided he wanted to go through with a trial because he believed God would deliver him out of jail in two years.
That change was one of the reasons that Skeem said pushed her to change her opinion of Mitchell's competency.
Following Thursday's testimony in which Skeem went on the offensive for what she perceived had been a "character assassination" by the government's expert witnesses, Tolman pointed out to her that she is not the victim in the case.
"As far as I know, we (the defense) have not slung the same kind of mud," Skeem fired back. "I am surprised by what has happened here."
Tolman also attempted to get Skeem to admit that it is possible for even professionals to be misled by patients being evaluated for competency.
"It's possible to be fooled. … I don't think it happened here," Skeem said. "I don't think I got this one wrong. It's possible, but I think it is highly unlikely."
Skeem said that Mitchell's delusions were present during both of her evaluations. But she stressed to the court that the conclusions of her evaluations were "much less important than the data and the reasonings" that went into the reports.
Skeem showed several charts and referred to many prior studies during her testimony to establish a scientific reason why she believed Mitchell was delusional when she finished her second report in 2005. She said content was not the important part of Mitchell's delusions.
"It's not so much what you believe, it's how you believe it," she said.
Skeem did not issue a current opinion on Mitchell's competency for his current federal hearing, noting that was not part of the scope of why she was hired by the defense team.
During rebuttal testimony, Dr. Michael Welner was brought back to the stand to testify that Mitchell could be a street preacher or appear as a regular person, depending on the appropriate situation and how it might benefit him.
"Brian Mitchell, when all is said and done, is a street performer," he said. "In Salt Lake City, being Jesus is good for business if you're panhandling."
Mitchell, for the seventh day in a row, refused to come out of his holding cell to attend the hearing.
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