Belief Beat

Elizabeth Smart, a sheltered, devout Mormon teenager from Salt Lake City, was abducted, raped and held against her will as the “plural wife” of self-proclaimed prophet Brian David Mitchell in June 2002. After reuniting with her parents and five siblings nine months later, she moved on with her life, including studying music at Brigham Young University and serving an LDS Church mission in Paris, France — but now at 23, she’s back in Utah, testifying with her family at Mitchell’s trial.

Mitchell, who called himself Immanuel, and his wife and accomplice Wanda Barzee had been excommunicated from the Church of Latter-day Saints for their odd convictions. But is the 57-year-old mentally ill — as evidenced by his random hymn-singing in court? — or a calculating criminal? The AP reports:

One of Mitchell’s lawyers said during opening statements that he was influenced by an escalating mental illness and extreme religious beliefs that made him think he was doing what God wanted him to do.

Public defender Parker Douglas didn’t dispute the facts but took issue with the prosecution’s allegation that Mitchell is a calculating person who planned the kidnapping.

“His life here is marked by an intense idiosyncratic set of beliefs. This is, as you will see, a pattern with Brian, a search for a deep connection and a belief that he has found something that has given him a certainty and a meaning in life,” Douglas said.

Check out The Salt Lake Tribune and CNN for more on the trial, and share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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