Guilty, Not Insane: Brian David Mitchell | Buzz Blog

Friday, December 10, 2010

Guilty, Not Insane: Brian David Mitchell

Posted By on December 10, 2010, 6:12 PM

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On the occasion of Brian David Mitchell today being found guilty of kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart —for which he faces up to life in prison—Scott Carrier, National Public Radio contributor and author of The One Mighty and Strong, [Dec. 2, City Weekly], had this say: ---

I agree with the jury's decision, mainly because I'd like to see Mitchell spend the rest of his life in a penitentiary rather than a mental hospital. But I am still not sure whether Mitchell believed he was the prophet, and this makes all the difference in the legal test of insanity—whether he understood the nature and quality of his acts, or whether he knew what he was doing was wrong.

If he believed he was the prophet, then he was acting under God's orders, and therefore he was insane. If he didn't believe it, then he was just a sadistic manipulator, and sane. The prosecution presented a lot of testimony to show that Mitchell could change his persona at will, but this doesn't rule out that he believed he was the prophet. In fact, his abilities and successes at fooling people could have made him all the more convinced that God was helping and protecting him. We'll probably never know the truth about this, and maybe there is no truth about this, and maybe, in the end, the truth doesn't matter anyway. What matters is that Elizabeth is alive and apparently doing very well, considering what happened to her. She's a rock star, and I hope she trades in her harp for a Fender Stratocaster.

There's a larger issue with this story than the truth about whether Mitchell believed he was the prophet, and it's about why we want so badly to know the truth. The question that still hangs in the air is whether not just the Mormon religion but all religions are insane and dangerous. This is why the Brian David Mitchell/Elizabeth Smart story is so big, locally and nationally. We're divided between believers and non-believers, and the two sides have grown so far apart that we can't even communicate anymore. All the more reason for the Stratocaster.

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Scott Carrier

Scott Carrier is a professor in the communication department at Utah Valley University. His "The One Mighty and Strong" story originally was broadcast as part of This American Life on NPR. 

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