SALT LAKE CITY – The estranged wife of the man charged with the abduction of Elizabeth Smart testified Thursday that the beginning of their 25-year marriage was hellish because he was so controlling.
Wanda Eileen Barzee took the witness stand to testify for the defense at the trial of Brian David Mitchell.
Like others who have testified about Mitchell, Barzee gave a portrait of two men. One is kind and supportive. The other is erratic, demanding, and appears to be increasingly taking direction from religious revelations he claimed to experience, according to Barzee's testimony.
"He was possessive and controlling, and there would be arguments," an emotional and visibly nervous Barzee said in a quiet voice.
Mitchell, 57, is charged with kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor across state lines. If convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in prison.
Barzee, 65, pleaded guilty to the same charges in November 2009 and is serving a 15-year term at Carswell, a federal prison in Fort Worth, Texas, where she is being treated for mental illness.
She agreed to cooperate with the case against Mitchell in a plea agreement with prosecutors.
On Thursday, Barzee told jurors in little more than an hour of testimony that her marriage with Mitchell began to improve in its third year after she said she read scriptures directing her to be obedient to her husband and the couple deepened their religious practice in the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Barzee said Mitchell, whom she married on Nov. 28, 1985, dictated what television programs she watched, but he also held her hand through church-sponsored group counseling and used his skill as a jewelry maker to fashion her a pearl and diamond wedding ring.
"He was very supportive of me and my situation," said Barzee, describing her nine month courtship to Mitchell. "I thought he was a righteous man."
Asked by defense attorney Robert Steele if Mitchell was sincere about his beliefs, Barzee replied, "I thought he was."
Mitchell's attorneys don't dispute the facts of Smart's abduction and captivity, but contend Mitchell is mentally ill and believes his actions are directed by God.
Barzee said Mitchell believed he was directed by God to change jobs, move to Idaho and then sell the couple's possessions so that they could hitchhike across the United States. She is expected to continue testifying on Friday.
Federal prosecutors maintain Mitchell is faking mental illness in order to avoid prosecution.
Now 23, Smart has testified that she was forced to enter a polygamous marriage with Mitchell, endured near daily rapes, was forced to use drugs and alcohol and was taken against her will from Utah to California for about four months.
At her federal sentencing, Barzee asked Smart for forgiveness and said that seven years after the June 5, 2002, kidnapping she finally understood it had been wrong. Barzee faced Smart for the first time in court on Thursday.
Many observers expected Barzee might testify for the prosecution. But nothing in the plea agreement dictated which side might use her as a witness, her attorney Scott Williams said.
"There very well may be an advantage to the government by having her called by the defense," Williams said. "Cross-examination provides more leeway for eliciting the points you want to make."
Mitchell and Barzee were both twice deemed incompetent for trial in parallel state cases.
Mitchell was diagnosed as delusional, and his case went to federal court after a state judge rejected a petition to have him forcibly medicated with anti-psychotic drugs.
In 2006, Barzee was ordered to undergo forced medication at Utah State Hospital. Her competency status was restored after about 15 months of treatment — an event that precipitated her plea agreements in both state and federal court.
Barzee filed for divorce from Mitchell in 2004 in the middle of the state proceedings, but the divorce has never been finalized.
Williams said Barzee continues to receive treatment in prison and that her mental health condition appears to be similar to what it was at the time of her sentencing. After Thursday's hearing, Williams said he thought Barzee, whose speech is liberally laced with religious references, had done her best to truthfully answer the questions asked.
The trial is in its third week and is expected to last into December. Mitchell is not in the courtroom. He is ordered removed daily for singing hymns and disrupting the proceedings. He watches the trial on video from a holding cell.