Defense builds insanity case at Smart trial in UT
SALT LAKE CITY – Defense attorneys called a string of witnesses Monday to support an insanity defense for the man charged in the 2002 kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart.
Utah State Hospital therapist Gregory Porter testified that he was initially skeptical about whether defendant Brian David Mitchell was mentally ill.
But Mitchell then spoke freely about his religious revelations about polygamy and details of the kidnapping — "things he probably shouldn't have told us," said Porter, who was Mitchell's social worker from 2005 to 2008.
Porter and forensic psychiatrist Dr. Paul Whitehead jointly diagnosed Mitchell with a delusional disorder that showed itself in his religious ideas but added that he also had "islands of health" — periods of time when he functioned and acted normally. Porter said.
Mitchell also engaged in periods of silence, refusing to speak to staff members and only writing notes when he needed something. He mostly ignored other residents and spent time reading alone or watching TV, according to testimony.
By day, Mitchell exercised, running in circles for two or three hours inside a small courtyard. At night, he sat meditating on a towel on the floor, Porter said.
Although he sometimes preached to new residents, Mitchell wasn't preoccupied with religion, the therapist said.
"We assumed that he would spend hours a day studying, writing and preaching, and that was not the case," Porter testified.
He agreed with prosecutors that Mitchell acted differently at the hospital than in court, where he routinely disrupts proceedings with hymn singing.
"He is unwilling to participate," Porter said. "That would grant tacit approval of the legal system and he was not about to do that."
Whitehead testified that he decided early on that the former street preacher likely needed anti-psychotic medication.
Before making a diagnosis, Whitehead reviewed some 4,500 pages of state court records and interviewed Mitchell's father, Shirl Mitchell, about the family history. The inquiry revealed a "fairly robust" history or a "genetic vulnerability" to psychotic disorders, Whitehead testified.
Mitchell's grandfather, for example, had been committed to the state hospital for mental health treatment decades earlier, he said.
Mitchell is on trial in U.S. District Court on kidnapping and unlawful transportation charges. If convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in prison.
Defense attorneys don't dispute that Smart was abducted and held captive for nine months, but they contend the 57-year-old defendant is mentally ill and can't be held responsible for the actions.
Mitchell was deemed competent for trial in the federal court system after twice being found incompetent in a parallel state case.
A state judge first sent Mitchell to the state hospital in 2003 for a 30-day competency evaluation and again in 2005 for treatment to restore his competency.
Mitchell refused treatment, and the judge decided against forced medications. The ruling led to the decision by federal prosecutors to step in and take the case in October of 2008.
Prosecutors contend Mitchell is faking mental illness to avoid prosecution.
Prosecutors objected Monday to the testimony of defense witnesses that raised the issue of Mitchell's competency in the state case.
Prosecutor Diana Hagen said a pretrial agreement with the defense should have prohibited the information from being presented to the jury.
The issue was expected to be resolved by U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball before testimony resumes Tuesday.
Smart was 14 when she was abducted from her home at knifepoint on June 5, 2002. She was recovered on March 12, 2003, disguised in wig and sunglasses and walking a suburban Salt Lake City street with Mitchell.
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 to California against her will.
The trial is expected to last into mid-December.