Elizabeth Smart speaks about release of co-kidnapper Wanda Barzee

Elizabeth Smart attends a November 2015 press conference. Photo: Gephardt Daily/Patrick Benedict

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, Sept. 13, 2018 (Gephardt Daily) — Elizabeth Smart addressed the media for the first time Thursday to speak about her co-kidnapper, Wanda Eileen Barzee, who will be released from prison Wednesday after being denied parole in July.

Speaking on the steps of the Utah State Capitol Thursday afternoon, Smart said she only found out the news “shortly before everybody else did, and yes, it was a big shock.”

She said she was told at a parole hearing in July that Barzee would be released in 2024.

At the news conference, Smart urged the parole board to “strongly reconsider” the situation because she still believes Barzee is a threat.

“To look at all the facts, to look at her mental status, and see if they really honestly, truly feel like she is no longer a threat and she is ready to be released.”

Smart said she feels Barzee is not only a danger to her but “a danger and a threat to any vulnerable person in our community, which is why our community should be worried.”

“She is a woman who had six children, and 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 Barzee saw her as her slave and called her her handmaiden.

“She, in her own right, abused me just as much as he did,” she said.

Smart said she would recommend to Barzee’s family that they start taking steps to have the woman civilly committed.

“I have spent the last 15 years trying to leave my fear in the past,” Smart said. “I have tried to move on with my life. I have tried to have a family and pursue everything I thought was important in my life. And now, at this point, to be so shocked and surprised by the news. Are there things I should be concerned about? Absolutely. But I also refuse to go back to that state of fear that I felt when I was kidnapped. I refuse to do that. So there are precautions I am taking to protect my family and myself, but I not only think it’s precautions that I should be taking but precautions that we as a community should be taking.

“She did appalling things when I was in captivity, and I know, for me, I know the depth of her depravity,” Smart added. “So I feel like the community should be educated on it.”

The Utah Board of Pardons and Parole said back on July 2 that Barzee would be granted a rehearing in January 2023, after the parole denial. Her sentence was due to expire one year later, in 2024.

According to a news release sent by Greg Johnson, director of administrative services for the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole, the early release date stems from an issue during Barzee’s parole hearing in June, which she refused to attend.

“At Ms. Barzee’s parole hearing June 12, 2018 the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole (Board) did not give credit toward the Utah sentence for time served in federal prison,” the news release said.

“Upon further review and advice from legal counsel, the Board must count time spent in federal custody toward Ms. Barzee’s state sentence. Therefore Ms. Barzee’s state sentence ends on Sept. 19, 2018.”

The news release goes on to say that at the June hearing that “Ms. Barzee’s attorney contended that Ms. Barzee’s federal sentence should run concurrently with her state sentence and therefore the Board had miscalculated the end of Ms. Barzee’s state sentence….”

On July 2, the Board issued a decision that said the time spent in federal custody did not count toward the state sentence and the end of Barzee’s state sentence was Jan. 29, 2024. However, the news release goes on: “based on further review and advice from legal counsel, the Board must count the time in federal prison as credit to the Utah sentence and therefore Ms. Barzee’s sentence ends on Sept. 19, 2018.”

Smart, in a statement released to the media Tuesday, wrote that she was disappointed by the decision.

“It is incomprehensible how someone who has not cooperated with her mental health evaluations or risk assessments and someone who did not show up to her own parole hearing can be released into our community,” she wrote.

“I appreciate the support, love and concern that has already been expressed and will work diligently to address the issue of Barzee’s release as well as to ensure changes are made moving forward to ensure this doesn’t happen to anyone else in the future.”

Barzee, now 72, pleaded guilty in 2009 to kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor in connection with Smart’s abduction. Barzee was sentenced in 2010 to 15 years in federal prison, but got credit as part of a plea bargain for the seven years she’d already spent behind bars in both the Utah State Hospital and Salt Lake County Jail.

At the time Barzee was sentenced, she was also ordered to serve one to 15 years in the Utah State Prison for state kidnapping charges in the Smart case.

She was transported back to the Utah State Prison in April 2016 after completing her federal prison term in Texas.

In 2002, Brian David Mitchell, Barzee’s then-husband, snatched the then 14-year-old Smart out of her bed. The couple held the teen captive for nine months.

Mitchell, now 64, was convicted in 2010 of aggravated kidnapping and illegally transporting a minor across state lines for sexual purposes. He is serving a life sentence in a federal prison in Arizona.

Smart is now 30 years old, and lives in Park City with her husband and their two young children. She announced on Instagram that she is expecting her third child in November. She works as a victim’s advocate, and speaks widely on the topic.

She and her husband met while each served a France-Paris mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Earlier this year, she was nominated for a Daytime Emmy for her work as a special correspondent on “Crime Watch Daily.” She also runs a foundation dedicated to helping kidnap victims and their recovery.

The press release from the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole contains the following background information about the case:

March 12, 2003: Brian Mitchell and Wanda Barzee were arrested for the alleged kidnapping of a minor.

March 18, 2003: A criminal information was filed in Utah state court alleging aggravated kidnapping.

March 5, 2008: A federal indictment was filed for kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor.

Nov. 17, 2009: Barzee pled guilty in federal court.

Feb. 8, 2010: The Utah state court found Barzee competent to proceed and Barzee pled guilty to aggravated kidnapping.

May 21, 2010: The Utah court sentenced Barzee to 1-15 years in the Utah State Prison for aggravated kidnapping, a second degree felony.

On the same day, May 21, 2010, the federal court sentenced Ms. Barzee and she began serving her federal sentence.

After completing her federal prison term, Barzee was returned to Utah on April 8, 2016 to serve the remainder of her Utah prison sentence. The Board counted credit for time served in jail and the state hospital pre-conviction but did not count the time she spent in federal prison as credit to her Utah sentence. The Board calculated the end of her sentence as Jan. 29, 2024.


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