Dr. Michael Welner Describes Evaluating Elizabeth Smart's Kidnapper Brian David Mitchell


Pertinent to the competency controversy, Mitchell's well-timed singing fed the mistaken idea of Mitchell as religion obsessed when he needed to impress examiners, and he knew it. But singing also was something he would turn off when it no longer served a purpose. When I ignored his singing, for example, it extinguished. Even when the interview became stressful. Judge Kimball observed Mitchell's singing to stop as he left the courtroom, having been excused.

What was his reaction when you showed him Elizabeth Smart's FBI interview?

Silent and with eyes closed for the first five to six hours, Mitchell swiveled his chair and opened his eyes to capture the image on a nearby television of Elizabeth speaking to police on videotape. He moved ever closer to the television and gazed intently at her in a way that I found leering. It was that creepy. Here he had maintained a silent posture with eyes closed, and the second the girl whom he stalked and then violated came on television, his lust trumped the strategy he had for dealing with my interview.

What did that tell you?

That sexual drive influenced him more powerfully than his intense efforts at concealing his abilities from scrutiny. This was consistent with other history on my evaluation that lust influenced him more than did religion, as well. Here was a man who would force one stepdaughter to look at pornography while their family was praying.

What made you conclude that Brian David Mitchell was competent to stand trial?

All of the history I gathered demonstrated to me that Mitchell understood exactly what he was charged with, was familiar with court procedure, was capable of cooperating with his attorneys when he chose to, could manage his behavior in court when he wished to, and recognized the evidence against him, the options available to him, and the penalties he was potentially facing.

In your report, you wrote that Mitchell suffered from anti-social personality disorder, pedophilia, psychopathy and alcohol abuse. How do those conditions distinguish from a person being considered "insane."

Mitchell knew what he was doing was wrong. He was a pedophile with a particularly high frequency of violating children in his custodial care, be they children or stepchildren. He was also a manipulative if theatrical fringe character for whom the Mormon faith gave structure and the opportunity for new life.

Panhandling as an ascetic figure in dated garb played well for him in tourist hubs in Salt Lake City, and obviously impressed psychologists unfamiliar with how living off the grid enabled him to live well and ignore his debts.

Like many others who aspire to form polygamist sects, and even like offending priests, he used the verbiage of religion to rationalize his indulgent sexuality and his stalking young girls before and after he kidnapped Elizabeth. Religious ideas did not drive his choices, sexual indulgence and a parasitic, responsibility free lifestyle did.

The way in which Mitchell related over the years to others, in its cunning, its callous exploitation and even his sadism reflected on him as more psychopathic than an otherwise unremarkable antisocial character.

Why was your opinion of Brian David Mitchell's competency different from those who had previously diagnosised him as unstable to stand trial? What do you think were the deciding factors?

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