SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 News) – Brian David Mitchell’s father, mother and sister were among the witnesses called by defenders to testify in the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping and rape case on Wednesday.
Mitchell was once again removed from the court for singing hymns before testimony resumed.
Mitchell’s father Shirl testified that his son’s problems began while he was in his mother’s womb, probably because he had been deer hunting when he was born.
Shirl Mitchell testified that Brian was often chastised for bad behavior as a child, which he believed led to his ‘alienation.’
Public defender Robert Steele questioned Shirl about the discipline that was used on Brian as a child.
“He was always teasing, creating turmoil in the family. Especially on his little sister. It got so chronic it may have been his contributor to his alienation,” said Mitchell.
Shirl Mitchell also testified of a time when Brian jumped out of a moving car to avoid punishment. At one time Shirl testified that he’d left Brian in a public park far away from the family’s home as a disciplinary action when he was 9 or 10 years old.
Steele questioned Shirl about his efforts to educate Brian about sex.
“It was ill-advised, because I knew better. I was not always careful about things. I had an old-fashioned book and diagrams of male and female genitalia. He got in trouble playing doctor with other kids in the neighborhood.
Steele: How old was he?
Mitchell: Probably 8 or 9.
Steele: Did you educate other children that way?
Mitchell: No. I believe it was a laissez-faire sort of thing.
Mitchell testified that Brian had a troubled relationship with his siblings and his mother, which escalated into physical violence at times.
Mitchell also testified that Brian was eventually shipped off to live with his grandma, where he spent his high school years.
Mitchell testified that he separated from his son after he got his GED.
Steele asked, “Was there incident where Brian got involved in juvenile court?”
“He exposed himself to a neighbor girl and her father reacted and reported it…it led to a series of permanent alienations of Brian,” said Mitchell.
Steele then showed a court exhibit of Shirl’s religious writings, including a 900-page long text called “Spokesman for the Infant Goddess.”
Prompted by Steele’s questions, Mitchell described how he’d spent a long time on the manuscript and how it caused some marital problems.
Mitchell testified that the book centered on nutrition and reproduction, and he was the “spokesman” referred to in the title.
Mitchell testified that he shared the book and ideas in it with Brian, who “went overboard” in practicing some of the nutritional ideas. “He went on a binge…confining himself to fruit and vegetable juice [making],” said Mitchell.
Mitchell also testified that he sent the manuscript to ABC News, hoping to get some national attention for it.
Steele asked, “When you were 7 or 8, did you have unusual experience?”
Prosecutors objected to the question, but Judge Dale Kimball allowed it.
“I had a thing that was totally out of context,” said Mitchell. “The only context I had was the Bible storybooks that my parents bought me and my brothers. I had no direct reference to Jesus as God or Christ, but I had a voice speak in my head. I was in my grandma’s house. I was playing hide and seek. I remember this big flour barrel in this cupboard or pantry. There was nothing around; no sound, and a voice said, ‘You are Christ.’ I attributed no importance to it other than it was so unique that I did remember it happening. But I didn’t repeat it to anybody. I just thought I remembered…I never had familiar spirits or companions like some kids get. I thought maybe something out there thought I had a unique talent for something or another, which would give me that nom de plume. Like I say, I haven’t used that as a motivation for my book at all. That was more or less incidental and just remembered.”
Steele asked, “Did you read Brian’s book?”
“Yeah, I read that little essay he wrote. He gave me copy. I didn’t discuss it with him. Plural wife abstract and all…,” said Mitchell.
Steele then questioned Mitchell about his own father’s mental history.
Mitchell recounted how his father had a habit of suing people, corporations and other entities over the years and how he’d spent some time in the Utah State (mental) hospital.
Steele asked, “Did you have some extensive conversations with your son?”
“Not on his personal problems. On a theological basis, yes. I never braced him about his own problems much. I never was explicit about those things, said Mitchell.
“But you had some extensive conversations about philosophy,” said Steele.
“And religion. He held pretty much to the line of the LDS Church. He was a zealot and rabid about that. He was pouring over Mormon scriptures…It was a zealot and rabid person that led to these delusions that he was Immanuel,” said Mitchell.
“Of all your children, did you have a special relationship with Brian?” asked Steele.
“I didn’t have too much connection, and maybe that’s the trouble. He sort of isolated himself in his own little word, you know. He wasn’t very responsive to me or my instruction or correction,” said Mitchell.
In cross examination by prosecutor Diana Hagen, Mitchell was asked, “Are you aware that he used the name Shirlson?”
“Yeah,” said Mitchell.
“Was it a tribute to you?” asked the prosecutor.
“I don’t know,” responded Mitchell.
The prosecutor then asked Mitchell a series of questions about his views on diet, Brian’s diet and lymphology.
“Were you ever treated for mental illness?” asked Hagen.
“Oh no, no,” said Mitchell.
Hagen referred to previous testimony about Brian getting in trouble for ‘playing doctor’ with other kids and his legal trouble for exposing himself to a little girl when he was a teenager.
“Did he ask her to touch his penis?” asked Hagen.
“I didn’t get the detail on that,” said Mitchell.
Hagen wrapped her cross-examination of Shirl Mitchell by asking if he saw a pattern of behavior from Brian similar to when he took advantage of a non-strict environment wherever he was.
“I wasn’t privy to all his antics,” responded Mitchell.
Homeless advocate testifies
The defense then called local homeless advocate Pamela Atkinson to the stand.
Atkinson testified that she had contact with Mitchell in the late 1990s as she worked as a Salvation Army volunteer and homeless outreach worker.
Atkinson testified that Mitchell would never shake her hand and refused to speak with her, except when she offered assistance, such as clothing or a hygiene kit.
Atkinson also testified that most homeless people avoided contact with Mitchell because he was a religious zealot or eccentric, which put them off.
Atkinson told the court she often saw Mitchell speaking to other people as if he were preaching to them, but no conversing with them.
During cross-examination, Atkinson testified that she tried to speak to Barzee, but that Mitchell’s wife also ignored her.
When asked if she had experience with mentally-ill people and whether she thought Mitchell was mentally-ill, Atkinson answered that she did know of some people who were mentally ill, but that she wasn’t qualified to make such a determination on Mitchell.