Defense begins for man accused of abducting Elizabeth Smart

Witnesses testify that Brian David Mitchell thought he was following "revelations" from God

Published November 16, 2010 11:34PM (EST)

Attorneys for the man accused of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart began building their case Tuesday, painting a picture of a deeply religious man who became increasingly inflexible and lost in his own beliefs.

Witnesses told jurors that Brian David Mitchell thought the world was descending toward the final days and followed "revelations" from God to change jobs, follow an alternative medicine and travel around the country homeless to test how others would treat the poor.

"He felt that he had some kind divine mission," said Karl West, whose parents allowed Mitchell to intermittently live in their Orem, Utah, home between 1999 and 2001.

Prosecutors rested their case against Brian David Mitchell early Tuesday after five days of testimony. Mitchell, 57, faces federal charges of kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor across state lines.

If convicted, the one-time street preacher could spend the rest of his life in prison.

Smart was 14 when she was taken from her home at knifepoint on June 5, 2002, and held captive until March 13, 2003. Smart, now 23, testified that she endured nearly daily rapes, was forced to use drugs and alcohol, and was taken against her will to California.

Mitchell's attorneys have not disputed the facts of Smart's abduction and nine months in captivity, but contend he is mentally ill and can't be held responsible for his actions. Federal prosecutors say Mitchell is faking a mental illness.

A federal judge ruled him competent earlier this year. Mitchell is not expected to testify on his own behalf.

Mitchell has been removed from court daily for disrupting the trial by singing religious hymns -- Christmas carols on Tuesday. He watches the proceedings on closed-circuit television from a holding cell.

Singing was a method Mitchell used to cope in situations he didn't like, said witness Doug Larsen, who worked with Mitchell at a local jewelry-maker in the early 1990s.

When music or conversations became bothersome, Mitchell sang hymns at his desk until reprimanded, said Larsen, who shared Mitchell's more rigid approach to following the Mormon faith.

Viewed as a religious fanatic by some, Mitchell was "very confident to the point of being dogmatic and being inflexible in his point of view," said Larsen. "His religion was always behind everything he said."

Larsen told jurors that he worried when Mitchell said he hoped lymphology, a system of treating the lymphatic system to promote wellness, could relieve a dependency on medications to treat mental illness, primarily for his wife, Wanda Eileen Barzee.

After Mitchell left the company in 1994, Larsen said he heard rumors that his former co-worker had grown out his hair and beard and was wearing robes while panhandling in downtown Salt Lake City.

It was that persona that Karl West and his brother Benjamin West, told jurors they remember from the years Mitchell lived and worked with their father, naturopath and lymphology expert C. Samuel West, beginning in the mid-1990s.

Initially clean-cut and pleasant, Mitchell came and went from the home, sometimes living in a teepee in the yard. Mitchell later dressed in robes, wore his hair long and asked to be called "Immanuel."

"I don't think it was just a costume," Karl West said. "I think he sincerely felt, believed that he was who he tried to claim he was."

Arguments over Mitchell's pursuit of "false doctrine," including polygamy, ended the relationship, the brothers said. When he last appeared at the West home, Mitchell stood on the sidewalk yelling that it would be "leveled and destroyed," Karl West said.

"I'd never seen him like that. He was off his rocker," Karl West said.

By Associated Press

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