"CNN reports that the father of Elizabeth Smart's kidnapper, Brian Mitchell, once 'slapped' Brian with a garden hose!" -- rf
March 16, 2003
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (CNN) -- Relatives are defending Brian David Mitchell, the homeless man suspected of abducting Utah teenager Elizabeth Smart nine months ago.

Shirl Mitchell, the suspect's father, says there is no justification for the alleged abduction but that his son's actions should be put in perspective.

"Brian is the one who got that girl back safely ... Now, that's quite an accomplishment," the senior Mitchell told CNN on Saturday.

"How many of these fiends, degenerates, take little kids and dismember their bodies or kill them outright and bury them. Now when they're getting to be overcritical of Brian, they should remember that," he said, urging that Mitchell not be "dumped out as garbage."

On Wednesday, police arrested Mitchell, 49, and his wife, Wanda Ilene Barzee, 57, in Sandy, Utah, after residents recognized the bearded and robe-clad Mitchell as the man police had named as a suspect in the case. Mitchell was walking with two veiled women -- Barzee and Elizabeth, who had been missing for nine months and turned 15 during that time.

Police say Elizabeth was abducted at knifepoint from her bedroom during the night of June 5, 2002. As details about the case emerge, Mitchell's father is taking to task those who would condemn his son.

"Of course, they're continuing to say he's a monster for taking away a minor. But they have to back up a little and realize that ... [Brian's] a saint because he took care of that girl and helped her for all those months," he said.

Authorities in Utah have said Brian Mitchell, a self-proclaimed prophet who called himself "Emmanuel," and companion Barzee could face charges of aggravated kidnapping.

Mitchell's father, 83, who described himself as a voyeur and the author of two volumes about his personal theology that include explicit sexual content, also acknowledged showing his son pictures of genitalia at the age of seven or eight. The father said he believes his erotic literature contributed to an after-school episode of indecent exposure when Mitchell was a teenager.

A few weeks in juvenile detention, bouts with alcohol and drugs -- including an LSD trip that put him in the hospital -- were other contributing factors, the elder Mitchell said. He added that the family suspected Brian Mitchell was abused in daycare.

Calling himself "too impulsive" as a parent, the father also catalogued early incidents in his own troubled relationship with Mitchell.

"He slapped one of the neighbor kids with a hose, hurting the kid, making the kid cry. So I went out and slapped him with [the hose] and probably said 'how do you think that feels.' That was too harsh," he said.

Mitchell's father also told CNN about an incident when he drove his son to a park and told him "you are on your own." He said he wanted his son to "appreciate having a home just by being loose in the world for a little while."

"That might have set his mind in that pattern. Now he is wandering around the whole country that way," the father said, referring to Mitchell's life as a panhandling drifter who preached to the homeless and passers-by.

Although they have rarely talked in the past 15 years, the father says he now feels "equally responsible" for what has happened to Mitchell, adding that he'll do whatever he can to help reduce any sentence his son might face.

He also said Mitchell's sister, Lisa, should receive the reward offered for Elizabeth's return.

"She's the one that turned Brian in," he said, referring to information that his daughter had provided authorities. The father told CNN that he has suggested his daughter use the reward money to hire a high-powered attorney to defend Mitchell "so that he'll get off with as little a sentence as possible."

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