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David Mitchell's wife, brother give accounts of his troubled path

By Lena Jakobsson, CNN
Wanda Barzee testified that she learned to become submissive to her husband, Brian Mitchell.
Wanda Barzee testified that she learned to become submissive to her husband, Brian Mitchell.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Wanda Barzee testifies for the defense in the trial of Brian David Mitchell
  • Mitchell faces federal charges in the 2002 abduction of Elizabeth Smart
  • Barzee testifies of a "hellish" first year of marriage to Mitchell
  • Religious counsel, Bible readings taught her to be more submissive, she says

Salt Lake City, Utah (CNN) -- When Wanda Barzee shared her story of an abusive marriage in a church-sponsored counseling session in 1985, Brian David Mitchell took her hand to comfort her. "And we've held hands ever since," Mitchell's wife testified Thursday.

Barzee, 65, scanned the room, bit her lip, and breathed heavily as she waited for her testimony to begin. When she raised her right hand to take the witness oath, the heavy chain of her shackles appeared.

Barzee struck a deal with state and federal prosecutors last year and is serving a 15-year prison sentence for her involvement in the 2002 abduction of Elizabeth Smart.

In spite of Barzee's agreement to testify, prosecutors in Mitchell's federal trial did not call her to the stand, and she instead began her testimony for the defense Thursday afternoon in a Salt Lake City courtroom.

In a flat voice and sometimes rambling, Barzee recounted the start of her relationship with Mitchell; a journey that eventually led her to the mountainside camp where she watched over a tethered teenage girl her husband said was his chosen bride.

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"I was married to my first husband for 20 years, raising six children, and it was a very abusive situation. And I never healed from that situation," Barzee said of her first marriage. "Brian was so supportive of me, he became my best friend," she said.

"He said he was abused, also."

"We were both going through a divorce, so normally it wasn't approved by the church that we date," Barzee continued, but she said they received rare consent from leaders at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to pursue the relationship. The two wed nine months later, on the day Mitchell's divorce became final.

The first year of marriage, she said, was "hellish," with a volatile and possessive Mitchell often storming off from their apartment in fits of anger. He told her he was "consumed by fear and doubt," and sometimes simply screamed into a pillow for long periods.

She struggled through, because of a bishop's blessing that said Satan would do everything in his power to separate the two, but that the Lord would give Barzee the strength to fight back.

Religious counsel and Bible readings gave her the remedy: "I started to be more silent, and I learned to be submissive and obedient."

Also called to testify Thursday was Tim Mitchell, Brian Mitchell's younger brother by six years, who described the defendant as an intelligent and resourceful big brother who built model airplanes, devised flying rockets, and endeavored to build a roller coaster in the family's back yard. Once, Tim Mitchell recalled, Brian constructed a hot-air balloon from cloth and sent it flying; it landed squarely on top of their home and set the roof on fire.

As Brian grew, he struggled with failed relationships, smoked marijuana and drank. That changed one night when the brothers discussed their religious beliefs by a campfire, and the younger one professed his devotion to the Mormon faith.

"He became a little bit tearful and said, 'I think what you're saying is true' and 'I kind of lost my way.' I remember he had a pack of cigarettes and he tossed them in fire and said he wanted to change his life, too."

For a time, Brian did change, said Tim Mitchell, though his relationships with family members were often strained and laced with suspicion. Then, Barzee entered his life.

"All of a sudden we heard he doesn't have a job anymore, and he's moved up to Idaho, and he's living in a trailer up there."

After a chance encounter in a Salt Lake City grocery store sometime later, Brian explained he and Barzee were wandering the country, ministering to the homeless.

Tim Mitchell expressed his concerns: "I said, 'I think you're going off on the wrong way, I think you're drifting away from the church. I think maybe you've been deceived by a false spirit.'"

Their contact was limited after that, until it ceased entirely about five years before the kidnapping of Smart. The brothers encountered each other at their mother's house, and Brian asked to be called "Daveed." His younger brother refused.

"I just kept calling him Brian."

"I started feeling that this is really starting to look like a mental illness and I sent a letter encouraging him to get some help," said Tim Mitchell, who works as a mental health counselor.

Defense attorneys are mounting an insanity defense for Brian Mitchell, 57, hoping to prove that mental illness clouded his mind to such a degree that he did not understand that his actions were wrong when he abducted and held Smart. Their case has so far consisted of family members and friends of the defendant, and could include Mitchell himself.

Barzee will continue her direct examination Friday morning.