Brian David Mitchell, the man convicted of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart, was originally declared unable to stand trial by reason of insanity, but Dr. Michael Welner's evaluation helped reverse that ruling and ultimately lead to Mitchell's life sentence.
In response to a request made by "Nightline," Utah District Federal Court released video of the interview Welner, one of the country's top forensic psychiatrists, conducted with Mitchell in 2009. The video has never been seen outside of the courtroom until now.
Federal prosecutors hired Welner to examine Mitchell, a 57-year-old homeless street preacher who claimed he was a Mormon prophet, and perform a complete evaluation of Mitchell's mental state. Welner spent hours with the accused, as well as conducted interviews with dozens of other people close to Mitchell, including Smart.
Welner, who also testified as the principal government witness in Mitchell's competency and insanity phases of his trial, determined that while Smart's kidnapper suffered from anti-social personality disorder, pedophilia, psychopathy and alcohol abuse, he did not suffer from a severe mental illness that would prevent him from standing trial.
After the interview tapes were released to "Nightline," Welner shared his opinions on how he determined Brian David Mitchell to be competent to stand trial.
What was your impression of Brian David Mitchell when you first met him? What was his demeanor like? Was he responsive?
Brian Mitchell entered the room with his eyes closed. He maintained this posture in silence. And so he conveyed the impression that he never intended to participate in the interview. He sang a few hymns, one as belligerently as one can sing. But otherwise he was peaceful and still -- for hours, and kept his eyes closed except for when he opened them to mere slits to see what I might be silently doing across the table as I waited to allow him to participate.
Tell me about his singing. What do you think was going on inside his head?
The singing derailed questions and was disarming at first. I sensed that was the point, especially when he chose another hymn in which he shouted "Repent, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" only feet from my face. It was aggressive enough to feel a sense of attack and I wondered whether that was the point -- that the 5-foot-5 and scrawny Mitchell could bellow in someone's face and keep them at a distance because he was yelling hymns, so others would not react to his aggression.
My impressions were confirmed when I learned from a jail inmate who had befriended him that Mitchell would retaliate against those who had taunted him by waking them up in the middle of the night by loudly singing hymns. Angry as the others were, what would they do in Salt Lake City to a man singing Mormon hymns? For Mitchell, singing served several purposes; it derailed conversation and thwarted scrutiny, and enabled him to take control over a situation. It was fascinating to watch how in court before the judge entered the courtroom, when Mitchell began to sing, everyone fell quiet -- even the prosecutors who found him so insincere.