Suspect competent to stand trial

Wednesday, September 1, 2004

SALT LAKE CITY -- A judge on Tuesday found the homeless man charged with kidnapping Elizabeth Smart competent to stand trial. The ruling came at the start of what had been expected to be a three-day hearing to gauge the mental state of Brian Mitchell, 50.

Salt Lake County District Attorney David Yocom said he and Mitchell's attorney, Kim Clark, had been in negotiations over waiving the hearing.

Clark said at the hearing that it was a "tactical decision" the defense reached after a judge ruled the competency proceedings would be open. The defense had sought to close the hearing, arguing media reports concerning Mitchell's mental state would taint the jury pool if he were found competent.

Two court-appointed experts apparently could not agree on the issue of his competency. Both evaluators did agree he suffers from a narcissistic delusion. Mitchell, who describes himself as a prophet, had refused to cooperate with them.

A handcuffed Mitchell, bearded and with long gray hair, did not speak during Tuesday's hearing but nodded twice when Judge Judith Atherton asked if he agreed with the decision, and if he understood what it meant.

Yocom would not say whether there were plea negotiations under way.

Mitchell and wife Wanda Barzee, 58, are charged with kidnapping Smart from her bedroom at knifepoint in 2002, and keeping her for nine months in Utah and California. She was 14 when she was abducted.

The two face kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault, aggravated burglary and attempted aggravated kidnapping charges. The couple has been in custody since the teenager was found with them along a suburban street in March 2003.

Mitchell was reportedly motivated by a "revelation from God" to take and detain Elizabeth in the Wasatch foothills just a few miles from her home, according to court documents. Authorities say Mitchell had written a rambling manifesto espousing the virtues of polygamy and may have taken the teen to make her his second wife.

Barzee has been twice deemed incompetent to stand trial and is undergoing treatment at a state mental hospital. She is scheduled to be re-evaluated in August 2005.

Legal incompetence means a person is prevented by mental illness or other ailment from understanding the charges against them or aiding in their defense.

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