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Originally published December 4, 2009.
As FBI agents interrogated Brian David Mitchell in 2003, he paused to consider his answers and carefully countered their questions about his role in the abduction of Elizabeth Smart. Videotape of the interview helped convince psychiatrist Noel Gardner that Mitchell is not psychotic or delusional but "clearly competent" to stand trial."He dueled with them," Gardner testified Thursday. "Even normal people would become overwhelmed. He literally was the master of that situation."Gardner was the first expert witness to testify for prosecutors in U.S. District Court at a hearing to determine whether Mitchell, 56, is able to understand the charges against him and assist his attorneys in his defense. The psychiatrist said the answer is simple:"Mr. Mitchell does not now and never has had a psychotic mental illness."Gardner said Mitchell has a "severe malignant narcissistic personality disorder with antisocial features" and that his selective singing and selective refusal to cooperate with his lawyers and evaluators should not be confused with mental illness.Mitchell has been removed from every hearing in both federal and state court in the past few years for disrupting the proceedings by singing hymns, including the first three days of the competency hearing, which began Monday.On Thursday, he was not brought into the courtroom. One of his attorneys said Mitchell had asked not to be present, and he watched the proceedings by video feed.Gardner, medical director of South Valley Mental Health, had testified at a 2005 state court proceeding that he believed Mitchell is competent. Further evaluation for the federal case did not change his conclusion, he said ThursdayHe said the singing is part of a religious persona that Mitchell has "cunningly and shrewdly" developed to disrupt court proceedings. People who are psychotic believe their delusions but don't try to impose them on the rest of the world, he said."Mr. Mitchell is not genuinely religious," Gardner said. "He turns on the religion when it's useful and he'll turn it off when it's not useful."Mitchell was not preoccupied with religious ideas once he was placed at Utah State Hospital for evaluation and treatment, according to Gardner. Instead he was preoccupied with books and movies that had nothing to do with religion and with "Charmed," a TV show about three witches, he said.He also said Mitchell has been sadistic, once serving his stepdaughter's pet rabbit to her for dinner and another time putting a cookie sheet of field mice in the oven so his then-wife, who was frightened of mice, would find them.Under cross-examination, defense attorney Parker Douglas asked Gardner if he had considered a 1970 psychological evaluation of Mitchell in reaching his competency conclusion.The evaluation undertaken after Mitchell was accused of molesting a neighbor girl and landed in the juvenile court system said the then-16-year-old had become withdrawn, called his mother a "whore" and fed his meals to the dog because he believed he was being poisoned.Gardner acknowledged that those behaviors can be signs of psychosis but said Mitchell never developed a psychotic disorder."It could have gone that way but it clearly didn't," he email@example.com