Suspect in Elizabeth Smart case deemed competent

Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Brian David Mitchell

SALT LAKE CITY -- The man charged with snatching Elizabeth Smart from her Salt Lake City bedroom nearly eight years ago could finally face a jury after a federal judge ruled Monday he is competent to stand trial.

Brian David Mitchell's hallmark disruptive singing in court -- evidence he's mentally incompetent, his attorneys say -- is a "contrivance" the suspect uses to give the impression he can't control his behavior, U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball wrote in a 149-page ruling issued Monday.

"The evidence proves that Mitchell has the capacity to assist his counsel in his defense and the ability to behave appropriately in the courtroom," Kimball wrote. "Although the defense has suggested that Mitchell's singing is a psychotic response to stress, Mitchell has repeatedly demonstrated that he has the capacity to be composed and in control, even in stressful situations."

Monday's ruling is a leap forward in a case that languished in state court as a judge twice ruled Mitchell incompetent and refused to force him to be medicated. The U.S. attorney's office intervened in 2008, indicting Mitchell in federal court on charges of kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor across state lines.

Kimball's ruling sets up a March 26 hearing to determine a trial date.

Smart was 14 when she was kidnapped from her home in 2002. She was found nine months later, in March 2003, walking a suburban Salt Lake City street with Mitchell and his now-estranged wife, Wanda Barzee.

Smart, now 22, testified for the competency hearing in October, saying she was raped after a marriage ceremony staged by Mitchell and throughout her captivity.

Experts who testified during a 10-day hearing last year split in their opinions about Mitchell's competency.

The prosecution's expert, New York forensic psychiatrist Dr. Michael Welner, concluded the Mitchell suffers from a range of disorders, including pedophilia, anti-social and narcissistic personality disorders, but said he was not psychotic or delusional.

The key expert for the defense, Dr. Jennifer Skeem, diagnosed Mitchell with a delusional disorder and said he was incompetent.

But the judge agreed with Welner, who said Mitchell was faking mental illness to avoid responsibility for wrongdoing.

Welner described Mitchell as an "effectively misleading psychopath" who has duped those around him into thinking he is incompetent.

Mitchell's court-appointed attorney, Robert Steele, did not immediately return calls from The Associated Press on Monday.

Carlie Christensen, the acting U.S. attorney for Utah, applauded the ruling Monday, calling it a significant step in holding Mitchell accountable. Elizabeth Smart's father, Ed Smart, said he was thrilled Mitchell was found competent.

"Because he is competent; he's crazy like a fox," Ed Smart said.

Ed Smart said he didn't think his daughter, who is serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Paris, had heard the news yet.

Barzee, 64, pleaded guilty to federal charges of kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor across state lines in November. Last month she pleaded guilty in state court to a charge related to the attempted kidnapping of Smart's cousin. Prosecutors dropped other state charges against her.

Barzee's lawyer, Scott Williams, told The Associated Press on Monday that Barzee has agreed to testify at Mitchell's trial.


Associated Press Writer Jennifer Dobner contributed to this report.

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