Federal court competency hearing begins for man charged in 2002 abduction of Elizabeth SmartBy AP
Monday, November 30, 2009
Competency hearing begins in Elizabeth Smart case
SALT LAKE CITY — A federal court proceeding is under way in Salt Lake City to determine if the man charged in the 2002 abduction of Elizabeth Smart is mentally competent to stand trial.
The hearing for Brian David Mitchell started Monday in U.S. District Court and is expected to last 10 days.
A ruling from Judge Dale Kimball is not immediately expected. But the decision will direct how the case moves forward — either to a trial or toward treatment that could restore Mitchell’s competency.
Federal prosecutors contend the 56-year-old former street preacher is competent.
Defense attorneys counter that Mitchell is unable to defend himself against charges of kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor.
Smart was 14 on June 5, 2002, when she was taken from her home at knifepoint. She was found in March 2003.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — For the third time since his arrest in 2003, a court will hold a competency hearing for the man charged in the 2002 abduction of Elizabeth Smart.
The 10-day hearing for Brian David Mitchell begins Monday in Utah’s U.S. District Court.
U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball will ultimately decide whether the 56-year-old former street preacher is competent to stand trial.
It’s unclear how long Kimball will take to issue a ruling. His decision will determine how the case will proceed — toward a trial if Mitchell is competent or an effort to restore Mitchell’s competency if he is not.
The hearing will be Mitchell’s first in federal court, but it’s a replay of state court proceedings where Mitchell was twice deemed incompetent for trial.
Diagnosed with a rare delusional disorder Mitchell — who sings hymn incessantly during court appearances and once yelled at a judge to ‘repent’ — has been primarily held at the Utah State Hospital and has refused treatment. Last year, a state judge refused to order forced medication for Mitchell, saying she was not convinced that anti-psychotic drugs would restore his competency.
A self-described prophet of God, Mitchell was indicted by a federal grand jury in 2008 on charges of kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor. A state case, where he is charged with multiple felonies, has been held up over the competency issue.
Smart was just 14 on June 5, 2002, when she was taken from her home at knifepoint and held captive for nine months. At an October hearing, Smart said she was forced to become Mitchell’s second wife in a religious ceremony and then raped.
Smart was recovered in March 2003 after motorists saw her walking a suburban street with Mitchell and his now-estranged wife, Wanda Eileen Barzee.
Federal prosecutors contend Mitchell is faking psychiatric symptoms in order to avoid prosecution — an opinion supported by a report by New York forensic psychiatrist Dr. Michael Welner, who was paid to evaluate Mitchell.
The full 206-page report is not yet public, but excerpt of it in court documents show Welner disputes the findings of previous evaluations of Mitchell. According to Welner, Mitchell, 56, suffers from an anti-social personality disorder, psychopathy, alcohol abuse and malingering — faking or exaggerating symptoms.
Welner will be a key witness for prosecutors, who contend his report is the most complete evaluation of Mitchell ever done, despite Mitchell’s refusal to cooperate.
Mitchell’s federal public defenders maintain that he is incompetent and have said evidence of his delusion can be found in his religious ramblings and writings, including a 27-page manifesto, “The Book of Emmanuel David Isaiah.” The tract outlines Mitchell’s own brand of religion, a mix of early Mormon theology and teachings from New Age writers.
Among the experts included as witnesses for prosecutors are a pair of religious experts expected to dissect Mitchell’s tome.
In addition, federal prosecutors have proposed a list of 26 other witnesses for the 10-day hearing. They include Mitchell’s former co-workers and religious leaders, employees of the Utah State Hospital, and several relatives,including Barzee’s mother, her sister and one of her daughter.
Barzee herself will not testify. Welner, however, is expected to discuss his interview with Barzee in court.
Defense attorneys have proposed just seven witnesses. All are either mental health experts or care providers who have worked with or evaluated Mitchell in the past.
Most notably, the defense has said it will likely call Dr. Richart DeMier, a psychologist at the U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Mo. as a defense expert.
De Mier evaluated Mitchell for federal prosecutors. Court documents indicate he concluded Mitchell was incompetent.