Judge: Alleged Elizabeth Smart Kidnapper Can Stand Trial

Crime, Law and JusticeTrials and ArbitrationJustice SystemCrimeKidnappingElizabeth Smart

Brian David Mitchell, the man charged with snatching Elizabeth Smart nearly eight years ago, could finally face a jury after a federal judge ruled Monday that Mitchell was faking mental illness and is competent to stand trial.

"The evidence proves that Mitchell has the capacity to assist his counsel in his defense and the ability to behave appropriately in the courtroom," U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball wrote in his 149-page ruling issued in response to a 10-day hearing last year on Mitchell's competency.

Lawyers for Mitchell said his hallmark disruptive singing in court was evidence he's mentally incompetent.

Kimball, however, called the outbreaks a "contrivance" used by the suspect to give the impression he can't control his behavior.

"Although the defense has suggested that Mitchell's singing is a psychotic response to stress, Mitchell has repeatedly demonstrated that he has the capacity to be composed and in control, even in stressful situations," the judge wrote.

Elizabeth Smart's father, Ed Smart, said he was thrilled Mitchell was found competent.

"Because he is competent; he's crazy like a fox," Ed Smart said.

Mitchell's federal public defender Robert Steele took issue with the ruling while acknowledging it was a "close call."

Steele said an appeal wasn't likely to succeed, and he was instead preparing for a trial expected to start later this year.

"It is our firm conviction that Mr. Mitchell is certainly mentally ill," Steele said. "Therefore, we are prepared to go to trial with an extremely mentally ill client."

The ruling was a leap forward in a case that languished in state court as a judge twice ruled Mitchell incompetent and refused to force him to be medicated. The U.S. attorney's office intervened in 2008, indicting Mitchell in federal court on charges of kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor across state lines.

Kimball's ruling set up a March 26 hearing to determine a trial date.

Smart was 14 when she was kidnapped from her Salt Lake City bedroom in 2002. She was found nine months later walking a suburban Salt Lake City street with Mitchell and his now-estranged wife, Wanda Barzee.

Smart, now 22, testified in October as part of the competency hearing, saying she was raped after a marriage ceremony staged by Mitchell and repeatedly throughout her captivity.

Experts who testified during the hearing last year split in their opinions about Mitchell's competency.

A prosecution witness, New York forensic psychiatrist Dr. Michael Welner, concluded Mitchell suffers from a range of disorders, including pedophilia and anti-social and narcissistic personality disorders but was not psychotic or delusional.

Welner also described Mitchell as an "effectively misleading psychopath" who has duped those around him into thinking he is incompetent.

A key expert for the defense, Dr. Jennifer Skeem, diagnosed Mitchell with a delusional disorder and said he was incompetent to stand trial.

Judge Kimball concluded Mitchell was faking mental illness to avoid responsibility for wrongdoing.

Carlie Christensen, acting U.S. attorney for Utah, applauded the ruling, calling it a significant step in holding Mitchell accountable.

Ed Smart said he didn't think his daughter, who is serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Paris, had heard the news.

Barzee, 64, pleaded guilty in November to federal charges of kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor across state lines. Last month, she pleaded guilty in state court to a charge related to the attempted kidnapping of Smart's cousin. Prosecutors dropped other state charges against her.

Barzee's lawyer, Scott Williams, told The Associated Press Barzee has agreed to testify at Mitchell's trial.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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