Elizabeth Smart says kidnapper being released still a threat
In this July 6, 2017, file photo, kidnapping victim Elizabeth Smart speaks to reporters during a tour of the state crime lab in Taylorsville, Utah.(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
Lindsay Whitehurst, The Associated Press
Published Friday, September 14, 2018 2:32AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, September 14, 2018 4:13AM EDT
SALT LAKE CITY -- Elizabeth Smart says a woman who helped kidnap her when she was 14 and stood by as she was sexually assaulted should be committed to a mental-health facility after she's released from prison next week.
Smart said Thursday she was shocked to find out about Wanda Barzee's prison release and she's deeply concerned because the inmate hasn't been co-operating with treatment.
"She is a woman who had six children yet could co-conspire to kidnap a 14-year-old girl, and not only sit next to her while being raped but encourage her husband to continue to rape me," Smart said. "So do I believe she's dangerous? Yes."
Barzee is expected to be freed Wednesday after 15 years in custody, after Utah authorities said in a surprise announcement they had miscalculated the amount of time the 72-year-old woman should serve.
Standing on the steps of the Utah state capitol, Smart, now 30, recalled some of the horrors she experienced when she was snatched from her home in 2002.
She said Barzee "saw me as her slave. She called me her handmaiden. She never hesitated to let her displeasure with me be known."
The Utah Board of Pardons and Parole set a January 2024 release date in June, but her attorney questioned whether that took into account time she'd served in a federal prison. On Tuesday, the board decided that she had served her full sentence allowed under the law.
Attorney Scott Williams has said Barzee has been diagnosed with several mental illnesses, but he's not concerned about her being a danger to the community. Williams did not immediately return a message seeking comment Thursday.
"I only found out shortly before everybody else," said Smart, who is now a married mother and activist for victims' rights. "And yes, it was a big shock. Only months ago, I was on my way to a parole hearing and was told she would never be let out before 2024."
Smart said she is taking unspecified steps to protect her family, but that she refuses to live in a "state of fear."
If Barzee had shown more clear signs of rehabilitation, she would likely feel differently about her release, she said. "I do believe in forgiveness. I am a Christian," Smart said. She also urged authorities to reconsider the process for release decisions to put greater weight on potential threat along with time served.
Smart was abducted from her Salt Lake City bedroom at knifepoint by street preacher Brian David Mitchell, who came in through an open kitchen window. The kidnapping triggered waves of fear around the country.
The girl was found while walking with Barzee and Mitchell on a street in the suburb of Sandy, Utah, by people who recognized the couple from media reports.
Mitchell is serving a life sentence after being convicted of kidnapping and raping Smart. He and Barzee were married at one point.
Barzee was convicted of both state and federal crimes, and transferred to the Utah state prison in April 2016 after finishing a federal sentence in Texas. She will be under federal supervision for five years after her release from prison.
If she violates the conditions of her release, which will include mental health treatment and an order not to contact Smart's family, she could go back to prison, said Elizabeth Smart's attorney Brett Tolman. He was previously the U.S. Attorney for Utah who prosecuted Mitchell.
Barzee's family could also request a possible civil commitment to a mental-health facility, if that's warranted, Tolman said.