The First Week of the Elizabeth Smart Trial

Brian David Mitchell, Elizabeth Smart’s alleged kidnapper, has been generally understood to be mentally incompetent to withstand trial. The trial continues however. In his opening statements Mr. Mitchell’s criminal defense attorney was one to the psychological difficulties and dysfunctional issues relating to Mitchell’s family life. His lawyer cited the family’s mental health history and even mentioned Mitchell’s grandfather who had recently been institutionalized and diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. He also continued to cite previous mental issues and outbursts displayed by Mitchell’s relations. Such examples include Mitchell’s father Shirl, who believed himself a prophet and wrote a large religious manifest. Mitchell’s criminal defense team used these examples to demonstrate that Mitchell possesses similarities of these dysfunctional behaviors displayed by his family. The defense also used these examples to bring to light abuse patterns set by Mitchell’s family.

Also recounted was Mitchell’s psychological and criminal history. A case where Mitchell exposed himself to a young girl caused him to be diagnosed with a character disorder for which Mitchell received therapy for treatment.

There was also discussion of previous problems in Mitchell’s early life that led to his experimentation with drugs, failed marriages and a blind wanderings for religious stability. Mitchell’s experimentation with religion led him to the belief that he was a prophet who could receive revelation from God. Some of these revelations were in relation to the re-establishing of plural marriage. The defense established that Mitchell’s intense religious experimentation finally caused him (along with his wife Wanda Barzee) to resent government and institutions. Mitchell and his wife then continued to travel using hand wagons in an attempt to “leave the world.”

Mitchell’s criminal defense teams used these and other examples in an attempt to demonstrate Mitchell’s mental incompetency. The defense claimed that when Mitchell kidnapped Elizabeth Smart, it was an act of a crazy man.  Time will tell whether this approach to Mitchell’s defense will be effective.

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