The woman who helped kidnap Elizabeth Smart in 2002 had her first chance to sit before an officer with the parole board Tuesday and ask for her release. And if mental health experts had signed off, the Smart family wouldn’t have objected.
But Wanda Barzee didn’t show up.
The chair for state prisoners sat empty as board member Angela Micklos explained that 72-year-old Barzee refused to attend. Barzee has also refused thus far to meet with a psychiatrist at the Utah State Prison, Miklos said — a mandatory requirement for parole after Barzee pleaded guilty but mentally ill to an attempted kidnapping charge in state court eight years ago.
Barzee has admitted she helped her husband, Brian David Mitchell, kidnap Smart from her bedroom in 2002. They held her captive for nine months before bystanders spotted the trio walking in Sandy and Smart was rescued.
After years of legal wrangling over her mental state, Barzee reached a plea bargain in federal and state courts in 2010. She pleaded guilty in federal court to kidnapping and unlawful transportation of Smart, and she was ordered to spend 15 years in a federal prison in Texas. Barzee was given credit for the seven years she had already spent either at the Utah State Hospital or in jail.
She also pleaded guilty in state court to a single attempted kidnapping charge stemming from a plot to kidnap Smart’s cousin in July 2002. Barzee was released from federal prison in 2016 and has been at the Utah State Prison ever since.
The parole board has the power to disregard any time Barzee has served outside Utah, which means she could remain locked up until 2024.
The parole board will now decide whether to give Barzee a date when she’ll be paroled, set another hearing or keep her behind bars until her sentence expires. A decision is expected to be released within the two to four weeks.
Smart’s parents, Ed and Lois Smart, urged the parole board during a 2011 hearing to give Barzee the maximum penalty possible.
Ed Smart said Tuesday that he would not oppose Barzee’s release if mental health professionals believed she would not be a danger to the community.
“Her refusal to come today seems like it’s an indicator that she’s still of the same mindset that she was back at the time she took Elizabeth,” the father said.
Elizabeth Smart was not at Tuesday’s hearing. She later wrote in an Instagram post that she had intended to be at that hearing, but got to the prison after it was already over due to “a silly mix-up.”
The now-30-year-old woman wrote that she was troubled to recently learn that Barzee was reportedly still carrying around a manuscript her husband wrote — an action that Elizabeth Smart says proves to her that Barzee hasn’t changed.
“If the prior 15+ years hasn’t changed her I don’t see how the future years will,” she wrote. “I will continue to pray that she will never be a threat to myself, my family or any vulnerable person ever again.”
Ed Smart said after the hearing that he believed his daughter has “moved on” and would leave the decision of whether Barzee should be released to the professionals.
“I think she’s probably of the opinion that if Barzee was to be seen as being mentally stable and not a threat, that it wouldn’t bother her to have her come out,” he said. “But I think if she poses a threat to anyone then that would be a reason for her to stay there.”
Ed Smart added that he doesn’t worry for his family’s safety, but is concerned that if Barzee is released, she might have the chance to do something similar to someone else.
Scott C. Williams, who was Barzee’s trial attorney, attended Tuesday’s hearing and said afterward that he has concerns that the plea deal they agreed to wasn’t being followed.
He said the agreement should have allowed Barzee to be paroled from the federal prison without serving more time in Utah.
“I didn’t ever expect Wanda Barzee to come back to the Utah State Prison,” Williams said after the hearing, adding that the favorable deal was struck because she cooperated with authorities as they prosecuted her husband.
At Mitchell’s 2011 trial, Barzee called Mitchell “a great deceiver” who used religious blessings and revelations to gain her cooperation in the kidnapping and rape of then-14-year-old Elizabeth Smart.
Mitchell is serving a life sentence for the kidnapping that took place June 5, 2002. On March 12, 2003, after nine months of captivity that included being raped almost daily, Smart was rescued after being spotted in Sandy with Mitchell and Barzee.
Correction: 1:10 p.m. June 14: The spelling of Angela Micklos' surname has been corrected.