SALT LAKE CITY – A forensic psychiatrist testified Wednesday that a former street preacher charged with the abduction of Elizabeth Smart did not suffer from severe mental illness at the time she was taken from her Utah home.
New York City-based Dr. Michael Welner was hired by federal prosecutors to evaluate defendant Brian David Mitchell in 2009 to perform what authorities called the most complete evaluation of Mitchell ever done.
In making his determination, Welner testified, he reviewed 210 sources of information that included medical, mental health and police reports, along with Mitchell's religious writings. Welner also interviewed 57 people, including Smart, while forming his opinion.
"Elizabeth Smart is really one of only two people who actually interacted with Brian David Mitchell when his guard was down," Welner said.
Welner attempted to interview Mitchell but said the defendant refused by sitting mute with his eyes shut for most of the five hours they spent together. Mitchell broke his silence by singing hymns and once shouted, "Repent, repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," the doctor said.
Mitchell, 57, is on trial in U.S. District Court on charges of kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor across state lines for the purposes of illegal sex. If convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in prison.
The case could go to the jury later this week.
Defense attorneys don't dispute that Smart was kidnapped in 2002 and held captive when she was 14, but contend Mitchell is mentally ill and can't be held responsible. They also contend he believes he has been directed by God and that he is a prophet who will restore the practice of polygamy and defeat the Antichrist at the end of the world.
Drawing from a report he drafted in 2009, Welner said Mitchell suffers from an anti-social personality disorder, pedophelia, psychopathy and alcohol abuse.
His testimony also mirrored the opinions of other experts who said they believed Mitchell's religious beliefs were insincere and that he changed them when it suited him. Like other evaluators, Welner said that flexibility was proof that Mitchell was not suffering a delusional disorder.
Defense attorneys criticized Welner's methodology for reaching his opinions — for example, getting FBI agents to conduct some 30 interviews on his behalf — and his fees, which to date total more than $748,600.
Reports also show Welner, who charges the U.S. attorneys office a $425 hourly fee and a flat fee of $5,000 per day of court testimony, was contracted to evaluate Mitchell months before he was court-ordered to undergo an evaluation at a U.S. Bureau of Prisons hospital.
Welner's involvement in the case, however, was not made public until after a bureau doctor said Mitchell was incompetent for trial.
Smart was taken from her home at knifepoint on June 5, 2002. She was recovered March 12, 2003, walking a suburban street with Mitchell.
Now 23, she has testified that she was forced into a polygamous marriage with Mitchell after the abduction and forced to have sex with him, use drugs and alcohol and view pornography while held captive.