December 9, 2009

Epic competency hearing continues

Vigorous cross-examination of prosecution psychiatrist

Since I'm receiving back-channel requests from colleagues to extend my coverage of the Brian David Mitchell case, and since it is after all one of the most historic competency hearings in recent memory, here is today's breaking news -- culled mainly from
a report by Pat Reavy of the Deseret News.

Today, defense attorney Robert Steele vigorously cross-examined prosecution psychiatrist Michael Welner about why he did not put greater weight on the opinion of other experts, including Mitchell's treating psychiatrist at Utah State Hospital.

The attending physician, Dr. Paul Whitehead, believes that Mitchell is both psychotic and incompetent to stand trial. That opinion is shared by prominent forensic psychologists Jennifer Skeem and Stephen Golding, all three of whom are listed as defense witnesses. (See Judge Atherton’s 2005 ruling for a comprehensive analysis of the opinions of Skeem and Golding.)

"This is about Brian Mitchell. It's not about Dr. Whitehead, it's not about Dr. Skeem, it's not about Dr. Golding," Welner retorted on the witness stand today. He is defending his opinion, rendered under direct examination last week, that Mitchell is neither psychotic nor incompetent to stand trial for kidnapping and raping Elizabeth Smart back in 2002.

As you will recall from a previous post, Welner is a prominent New York psychiatrist who was paid about half a million dollars for his lengthy competency report. I don't know how much he is being paid for his court testimony, but I would sure love to know the total of federal tax dollars being expended on this massive competency trial.

Pat Reavy's full report in the Deseret News is available online.

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