Elizabeth Smart stood before news cameras Thursday to say her kidnapper, Wanda Barzee, remains a threat to the public and should not be released from prison.
Smart spent the past two days processing the unexpected announcement that the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole would be releasing Barzee next week, after previously saying that she would stay in prison until at least 2024. After exploring her options, Smart conceded she has no legal recourse to keep Barzee, 72, locked up.
Instead, standing in front of the Utah Capitol, she asked the “powers that be” to re-evaluate the decision. If they won’t, she hopes Barzee’s family will have her committed to a mental health facility. If that doesn’t happen, she said she at least wants whatever community Barzee is released into to be vigilant.
Smart didn’t mince words: "I think the community should realize that she is dangerous.
“She did appalling things when I was in captivity," Smart said. "I know the depths of her depravity.”
Barzee’s family told The Salt Lake Tribune on Thursday they want nothing to do with her. The parole board responded to Smart’s request to re-evaluate by reiterating that Barzee has served her 15 years and they can no longer legally hold her after Sept. 19.
Barzee and her husband Brian David Mitchell took Smart, then 14, from her Salt Lake City home at knifepoint in 2002 to fulfill what Mitchell, a fanatical preacher, saw as his destiny. Smart has testified that Mitchell raped her almost daily during the nine months Barzee and Mitchell held her.
During Wednesday’s news conference, Smart didn’t minimize Barzee’s role in her kidnapping. She said while Barzee was manipulated at times by Mitchell, Barzee abused Smart “just as much as he did.” She said Barzee referred to her as her “handmaiden” and treated Smart like a slave.
“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 raping me,” Smart said. “So do I believe she is dangerous? Yes, but not just to me.”
Smart was saved in 2003 when a passerby noticed her while she, Barzee and Mitchell were walking in Sandy. Barzee and Mitchell have been in custody ever since. In late 2009, Barzee pleaded guilty to federal charges related to Smart’s kidnapping, and to state charges in 2010 involving a plot to kidnap Smart’s cousin. Barzee was sentenced to federal prison that year and was given credit for the seven years she had spent in the state hospital.
She was released from a federal prison in Texas in 2016. Barzee is finishing a one-to-15-year state sentence.
When prosecutors and Barzee entered into plea agreements, each knew the sentences from the two courts would run at the same time. Barzee’s attorney, Scott C. Williams, pointed that out in filings for Barzee’s parole hearing in June.
Barzee declined to attend that hearing. At that time, the board decided to keep her incarcerated and scheduled another parole hearing for 2023. Until earlier this week, Smart said she had always been told Barzee wouldn’t be released until 2024 at the earliest. Then the board decided it made an error and reversed itself.
“So, yes,” she said, “it was a very big shock.”
Smart’s father, Ed, said during Thursday’s news conference that his daughter should have been notified of the possibility of Barzee being released before 2024 “long ago.”
He said the board’s apparent error proves there is a communication breakdown in the justice system, one he said needs to be fixed for survivors like his daughter.
Elizabeth Smart also questioned a criminal justice system that would release a convict who, in Smart’s opinion, has not been rehabilitated. She said it’s her understanding Barzee has not undergone therapy nor taken prescribed medicines. Smart said she’s heard from a “reliable source” that Barzee still carries around the book of revelations Mitchell wrote before and during her captivity, when he was apparently inspired by God.
“That’s where he said to kidnap me and six other young women,” Smart said about the book. “If she’s still carrying that around, yes, I do think she’s a big threat.”
Smart said she hopes federal officials will keep a close watch on Barzee during probation.
Utah’s U.S. Attorney John Huber said federal probation officers — who have fewer cases to keep track of than local Adult Probation and Parole agents — will do just that.
“Wanda Barzee will be closely monitored. If she falls off track to what her requirements are, that’s a very short leash.”
If she violates any of the conditions, Barzee would be brought before a judge who has a “range of remedies” at his or her disposal, including sentencing Barzee to more time in federal prison before restarting her supervision.
“The judge will have a lot of options to keep the victim safe and help this perpetrator get back on track in life," Huber said.
While Smart said Barzee is dangerous, she also told reporters that she isn’t scared of the woman who kidnapped her. Shocked, surprised and concerned by her earlier-than-expected release? Yes. But she isn’t scared.
Smart said she’s spent the past 15 years trying to overcome the fear she experienced in those nine-months of captivity and refuses to go back to that.
When asked at the end of the news conference if she had anything to say to Barzee, Smart declined. Smart said she doesn’t want to see Barzee, much less think about or talk to her ever again.
Smart said she’s forgiven Barzee — and that’s enough.
Tribune reporters Jessica Miller and Nate Carlisle contributed to this article.
Correction: 5:30 p.m., Sept. 13 • An earlier version of this story misstated the day Elizabeth Smart gave a news conference on Wanda Barzee's release from prison.