Brian David Mitchell's lawyer may be pushing an insanity defense in the self-proclaimed prophet's trial for kidnapping Elizabeth Smart, but there was no assistance from Mitchell's accomplice, his wife Wanda Barzee. "He's a great deceiver," she told the jury last week, after testifying that Mitchell was a manipulative and calculating man who used blessings and the word of God to intimidate those around him beginning with herself.
Barzee is serving 15 years at the Carswell Center in Fort Worth, Texas, for her part in the Smart abduction. In November 2009, Barzee pleaded guilty to the charge after a Utah judge ordered her forcibly medicated with antipsychotic drugs to restore her mental competence. A long struggle over fitness for trial also delayed Mitchell's court proceedings, but he was declared competent in March 2010 and his trial began on Nov. 1. Barzee, testifying for the prosecution, painted a portrait of a dysfunctional relationship in which she was hectored and coerced into aiding Mitchell's quest for plural marriage and multiple wives.
They first met in 1985 at a group counseling session sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) in Salt Lake City. Barzee had just been through an abusive relationship and was attending the meeting on the recommendation of her bishop. She met Mitchell on her first day of counseling. She recalled that he held her hand to comfort her as she "poured her heart out." From then on, they held hands every day in counseling. The two dated for nine months and were married on Nov. 29, 1985, the same day Mitchell's divorce from his previous wife was finalized. "He was very supportive of me and my situation. [He had] been ordained an elder, had been through the temple, and received his endowments. I thought he was a righteous man," Barzee testified.
But there was no wedded bliss in store for her. She called the first year of their marriage "hellish," with the two fighting often. Mitchell was critical, possessive and controlling, she said. "He wouldn't allow me ever to watch a show that I wanted to. He would punish me if he didn't want to watch it ... getting angry and leaving the room and not having anything to do with me until I gave him what he wanted," Barzee told the jury. She also described times when Mitchell would criticize her cooking or leave the house for several hours after becoming angry with her. Although the marriage was dysfunctional, Barzee was dedicated to working through the problems after her bishop gave her a blessing. "[He] told me that Satan was going to do everything in his power to stop us," she said. "The Lord would give me patience to work with Brian and work out our problems." According to Barzee, the fighting subsided around 1988. "I just learned to be more silent, to be submissive and obedient," she told the jury. Barzee explained that she aspired to be a more submissive wife after reading Mormon scriptures.
One of the more bizarre stories about Mitchell emerged during defense attorney Robert Steele's questioning of Barzee. It involved Barzee's youngest daughter, LouRee, whom the witness had custody of. According to Barzee, Mitchell killed LouRee's pet rabbit, taught Barzee how to cook it, and, after it was ready, instructed Barzee to tell her daughter that it was chicken. "This was all the defendant's idea? It wasn't your idea to feed your daughter her pet rabbit?" Steele asked Barzee, who began to cry as she responded, "No." She continued, "The defendant gloated over the fact that he fooled LouRee into eating 'chicken.' "
In 1994, Mitchell quit his job as a jeweler and die cutter and began studying what he called "lymphology" a facet of what is called "speed-healing," which combines breathing exercises and massages along the lymphatic vessels as a purported cure for all sorts of ailments. "Brian thought it was the Lord's will for him to teach lymphology," Barzee told the jury. His work included calling people across the country to convince them that they needed lymphology. According to Barzee, Mitchell believed he could teach the process and live off the donations.
Around 1993, before Mitchell quit his job, he began to administer priesthood blessings to Barzee which he said were revelations from the Holy Spirit. At first the blessings seemed fairly innocent. Barzee, an accomplished organist, told of one blessing in which Mitchell predicted that a recital she was going to play would become a turning point in her life: "I was going to play it for the hosts of heaven and Jesus Christ ... and all my ancestors were going to feel the sanctity." She believed Mitchell's blessings were sacred.
But it wasn't long before they became sinister and manipulative. At first the blessings aimed to simplify their lives, then they aimed to get rid of their belongings, then to hitchhike across the U.S. visiting historic LDS sites. Eventually, the blessings involved restoring plural marriage and, finally, taking wives who were 10 to 14 years old.
Between 1995 and approximately 1999, the couple crisscrossed the country, spending time in Spokane, Wash.; Boston; Philadelphia; New York City; Miami; Illinois; Utah; California; and even a brief stint in Hawaii. They raised money through Mitchell's panhandling, which Barzee referred to as "ministering." They spent time hitchhiking and pulling a wooden handcart and, briefly, a compact wooden house on wheels which they once lost control of while pulling it from Mitchell's mother's home, injuring Barzee. "I tripped and fell and was run over by one of the tires. I was run over by about a half ton," Barzee told the jury. After the accident, she said, Mitchell told her to get up so that the authorities wouldn't take the house away, and she spent the next three days lying in the wooden house with a crushed chest cavity and separated knee and shoulder joints. Mitchell practiced lymphology on Barzee to heal her wounds. In court, Barzee began to cry as federal prosecutor Felice Viti recounted the gruesome details of the ordeal.
According to Barzee, on Nov. 7, 2000, Mitchell delivered another priesthood blessing. "[He] told me the keys to the Lord's shoulder had been transferred to him," Barzee testified. After this blessing, the couple acquired new names Hephzibah and Immanuel. Later that month, Mitchell gave Barzee a priesthood blessing predicting that plural marriage would be restored. "I started thinking about it and got really devastated. I collapsed and cried in his arms," Barzee said. She told the jury that she was upset because she didn't want to share her husband with another woman but that Mitchell told her she needed to live the law and accept plural marriage as a reality or suffer eternal consequences.
After two failed attempts at contracting a plural marriage with older women, Mitchell had a "revelation" that he needed to take younger girls. "He would go downtown to minister and stalk young girls. Try to find out where they lived," Barzee told the jury. She said Mitchell informed her that they were "commanded to take 14-year-old young women. We were to snatch them out of the world and train them in the ministries of God."
Barzee said she was shocked that they needed to take the girls by force. "I didn't want a young woman taken away from her family and her friends," she said. But because Mitchell had said it was a priesthood blessing, Barzee believed it was the Lord's will. "I was told I needed to listen to the plan of my husband," Barzee testified.
And then Mitchell met the Smart family and their daughter Elizabeth. Barzee recounted the five weeks of preparation, how Mitchell purchased a cable and measured how it would be used to tether the young girl to two trees. Barzee set up the bucket that would be used as the prisoner's bathroom and the tent where the defendant would sexually assault Smart.
"Looking back on it, as you sit here today, it was all about what the defendant wanted, wasn't it? You have great sorrow about the things he convinced you to do, don't you?" Viti asked Barzee. She responded, "Yes."
The trial will resume on Nov. 29. Mitchell's defense attorneys are expected to begin calling their expert witnesses to convince the jury that Mitchell was suffering from a severe mental illness when he kidnapped Smart.