SALT LAKE CITY – The man charged with abducting Elizabeth Smart at knifepoint was dysfunctional and argumentative as a child, and became increasingly unstable as he went through three marriages, his family testified Wednesday.
His elderly mother, Irene Mitchell, told jurors that she remembered her son as a "little boy and what a darling little boy he was," but added: "What I see now is not the same person, and what he did was painful."
Brian David Mitchell faces federal charges of kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor across state lines for the purposes of sexual activity. Smart was 14 when she was taken from her Utah home.
If convicted, the 57-year-old former street preacher could spend the rest of his life in prison.
His mother was one of four family members who testified for the defense; the others included his father Shirl Mitchell, and sisters Lisa Holbrook and Kayleen Hill.
Defense attorneys have not disputed the facts of the case — Smart's abduction on June 5, 2002, or her nine months in captivity — but they contend that Brian David Mitchell suffers from mental illness and can't be held responsible for his alleged crimes. Federal prosecutors, who concluded their case Tuesday, believe he is faking mental illness to avoid prosecution.
The family members testified that Mitchell as a child caused turmoil in his parents' home, failed to finish high school, and was charged as a juvenile with a sex crime after exposing himself to an 8-year-old neighborhood girl.
He was sentenced to probation and was sent to counseling, although his mother said she couldn't remember whether he was diagnosed with a mental illness.
As an adult, Mitchell's relationships continued to be tumultuous, witnesses said. He married three times, divorced twice, and fled Utah for New Hampshire with his two children to avoid a custody battle with his first wife.
He later returned to Utah, but put up the children for adoption, saying they caused problems in his marriage to his second wife.
Family said that it was during his third marriage — to Wanda Eileen Barzee, who pleaded guilty to Smart's kidnapping last year — that Mitchell became extreme in his religious and political beliefs.
That was when he objected to paying taxes and drafted his 27-page religious manifesto, "The Book of Immanuel David Isaiah," family members said. Raised a Mormon, he was alternately disinterested or deeply devout, but also joined the Hare Krishna movement for a period.
Lisa Holbrook, one of Mitchell's younger sisters, said her brother began dressing in robes and asked to be addressed by the religious names "Dah-veed," and later "Immanuel," telling family he held a special relationship with God.
Holbrook said she helped their mother obtain a protective order after a physical altercation with Mitchell. Holbrook described how she and Irene Mitchell waited on the street with police as he and Barzee moved out.
"They were yelling hell, fire and damnation to us, my husband and I. When we went inside, they had destroyed all their possessions," Holbrook said.
Holbrook said under questioning from prosecutors that she never sought mental health help for her brother but that in hindsight, it "probably would have been a good idea."
Hill said she wrote her brother a Christmas card after his 2003 arrest to express her anger with him.
"I told him I felt devastated," said Hill. "I told him we had prayed for (Smart) all the time she was missing, and that for my children to find out that their uncle had done, this is just horrible."
Smart, now 23, has testified that she was forced to enter a polygamous marriage with Mitchell, endured nearly daily rapes, was forced to use drugs and alcohol and was taken against her will from Utah to California for about four months.
Defense attorneys have argued that prosecutors failed to prove allegations that Mitchell took her to California to have sex with her. Judge Dale Kimball on Wednesday rejected a defense motion for an acquittal, saying prosecutors don't have to prove it was the sole purpose of the trip and that the defense's theory would be better used in a closing argument to the jury.
Mitchell was not present for the proceedings. Kimball has ordered him removed from the courtroom daily for singing hymns, and Mitchell watches the trial on closed-circuit television from a holding cell.