In Smart kidnap case, finally an apology
Finally, an apology.
On Tuesday, Wanda Eileen Barzee said she is sorry for helping her husband kidnap Elizabeth Smart in 2002 and hold the then-14-year-old girl in captivity for nine harrowing months.
"I'm greatly humbled as I realize how much Elizabeth Smart has been victimized and the role I played in it," Barzee said at a federal court hearing. "I'm so sorry, Elizabeth, for all the pain and suffering I caused you and your family. It is my hope you will be able to find it in your heart to forgive me."
Smart wasn't in the Salt Lake City courtroom to hear the apology in person, but her father was. Ed Smart said his daughter has put the ordeal behind her and "absolutely" forgives Barzee. So do he and his wife.
"I just hope that Wanda realizes what she did," Ed Smart said. "It was absolutely wrong. It was absolutely horrible."
Barzee pleaded guilty Tuesday to kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor. A plea bargain calls the 64-year-old to serve 15 years in prison and testify against her husband, Brian David Mitchell. In a written statement, Barzee admitted that she helped Mitchell, now 56, plot the 2002 kidnapping and transport of Smart from Utah to California.
Ed Smart, who spoke to his daughter Tuesday and sent her a transcript of the hearing, said she is happy that Barzee will be testifying against Mitchell. The father said he's satisfied with a 15-year sentence for Barzee, but Mitchell "should never see the light of day."
If convicted in a trial, Barzee could have received life in prison for the kidnapping charge. Her sentencing, by U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball, is scheduled for May 19.
Her plea deal calls for Barzee to receive credit for the time she has been incarcerated since her March 2003 arrest. She might also earn 54 days of credit per year for good behavior in federal prison.
Barzee also has agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit aggravated kidnapping in Utah's 3rd District Court. Judge Judith Atherton will impose a sentence on that charge. No plea or sentencing date has been set in that court
Barzee entered the federal courtroom with shackles around her wrists and waist. Occasionally, while seated at the defense table, she smiled and waved to her mother, Dora Corbett, in the gallery.
When called to the podium, Barzee told Kimball she understood the charges against her. When asked if she helped Mitchell sexually assault Smart, Barzee emitted a barely audible, "True."
Mitchell and Barzee were charged with kidnapping Smart on June 5, 2002, from her Federal Heights home. They were arrested in March 2003 while walking in Sandy with the girl. Smart has testified that Barzee guarded her when Mitchell was away so she wouldn't escape.
U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman issued a written statement Tuesday saying the plea deal means Smart will not have to testify at trial against Barzee.
"It is our belief that this outcome will begin to bring long-awaited closure to Elizabeth and her family," Tolman said. "We believe a 15-year sentence is just and fair under the circumstances."
Atherton has ruled Mitchell cannot be forcibly medicated to try to restore his mental competency; she ruled Barzee could be forcibly medicated, a process that began at the Utah State Hospital in May 2008.
That state court ruling led the U.S. Attorney's Office to begin a case against the couple. A federal grand jury issued an indictment last year charging Mitchell and Barzee with the kidnapping and unlawful transportation charges.
Barzee -- who claimed she is the "mother of Zion" and received messages from God through her television, according to testimony at earlier court hearings -- recently completed the forced regimen of psychotropic drugs. Doctors at Utah State Hospital asserted this fall that she is competent to stand trial.
Defense attorney Scott C. Williams said Barzee feels remorse now that her mental condition has improved. "The person she is now wants to accept responsibility," he said.
Lawyers are still litigating the question of whether Mitchell is mentally competent to stand trial. A two-week competency hearing before Kimball is scheduled to begin Nov. 30.
Barzee is still charged in state court with two counts of burglary, two counts of kidnapping and two counts of sexual assault. Five of the counts are first-degree felonies punishable by up to life in prison. As part of a plea deal covering both state and federal cases, she has agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit aggravated kidnapping. Barzee's next appearance in state court is a competency review scheduled for Jan. 6.
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