Wanda Barzee, who with her husband, Brian David Mitchell, kidnapped Elizabeth Smart from her Salt Lake City home in 2002, will be freed from prison Wednesday.
The release has angered Smart, who was 14 at the time of her abduction, and those supporting her. Salt Lake Tribune readers sent questions about her sentence, why she is being released, where she will go, and why the Smart family is upset. Here are answers:
What did Barzee plead guilty to and what was her sentence?
On Nov. 17, 2009, Barzee pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of kidnapping and one count of enticement of a minor. A judge sentenced her to 180 months in prison and 60 months of supervision upon her release.
The next year, Barzee pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated kidnapping, a second-degree felony. That was for a plot to kidnap one of Smart’s cousins about a month after Smart was abducted. The judge sentenced her to up to 15 years in prison, which is the maximum Utah allows for a second-degree felony.
A note on the state court docket reads: “Court orders term to run concurrent with federal sentence.” All parties, including the Smart family, were aware that the federal and state sentences were to coincide.
Barzee served her federal sentence in Texas, was given credit for good behavior and released early in 2017. She was immediately transferred to Utah.
When Barzee is released Wednesday from the Utah State Prison, she will need to register as a sex offender. Also, her 60 months of federal supervision — often called probation — will begin. One of her conditions will be no direct or indirect contact with Elizabeth Smart.
Barzee will be assigned to a federal agent and have to keep that agent apprised of where she is living, working and other pertinent information. Her home will be subject to inspections. And Barzee will be required to undergo mental health treatment.
Why is she being released now?
Her sentence is expiring, at least by the terms of her plea agreement and the letter of the law.
As statute and legal precedent require, the clock on Barzee’s 15-year sentence began when she and Mitchell were arrested in March 2003. The Board of Pardons and Parole did not count the nearly six months between when she was sentenced in federal court and when she was sentenced in state court. So Barzee would actually serve about 15½ years from the time of her arrest.
Barzee’s attorney, Scott C. Williams, says his client would have grounds to file a writ of habeas corpus if she remains in prison after Wednesday. In fact, Williams contends, Barzee has been in prison longer than most inmates who receive a sentence like hers. The Utah Board of Pardons and Parole did not count the time for good behavior that the federal prison system gave Barzee, and Williams says that’s unusual.
Why had the Board of Pardons and Parole set her sentence expiration date for 2024?
There was confusion over whether the board had to give Barzee credit for the time in federal prison. Typically, the board does not give credit for time served outside Utah. So when Barzee refused to attend her parole hearing in June, the board set another hearing date for 2023.
But, according to subsequent statements from the five-member board, the board reviewed the materials Williams submitted, the two court sentences, transcripts of the plea and sentencing hearings and legal precedents. After that legal review, the board decided it needed to count the federal time.
Some early news stories about the board’s decision referred to Barzee as being released early. Also, some might infer from the words “Pardon and Parole” in the name of the board which made the decision that Barzee is being paroled. But the state is not paroling Barzee, and the statements from the board have emphasized she is not being released early.
Why is the Smart family upset?
When Barzee pleaded guilty in federal court in 2009, Ed Smart, Elizabeth’s father, said he was satisfied with a 15-year sentence for Barzee, but Mitchell “should never see the light of day.” (Mitchell was later sentenced in federal court to life in prison.)
At a news conference Thursday, the father and daughter said Barzee is still “dangerous.” They are upset Barzee declined to participate in mental health evaluations at the Utah State Prison.
While Barzee apologized to Elizabeth Smart in 2009, the Smarts don’t believe she has taken responsibility for her role in her crimes and Mitchell’s, including taking Elizabeth Smart at knifepoint and Mitchell raping her almost daily. Smart on Thursday said she has heard Barzee still carries Mitchell’s “The Book of Immanuel David Isaiah.”
The family members also are upset that the board of pardons gave them a little more than a week’s notice that Barzee would be released. Smart, who is pregnant with her third child, said she fears for her family’s safety and is taking steps to protect them from Barzee.
It should be noted that Smart is not the victim in the crime for which Barzee is serving her state sentence — that’s Smart’s cousin. Smart and her father have spoken on behalf of the entire family for years and were allowed to make statements at that June parole hearing.
What does the Smart family want?
They want Barzee to remain in some sort of confinement. On Thursday, the Smarts asked the board of pardons to reconsider. (The board issued a statement a couple of hours after the request saying Barzee “cannot legally be held in the Utah State Prison beyond the length of her sentence.”)
In the alternative, the Smarts asked Barzee’s family to have her committed to the Utah State Hospital.
Can Barzee be committed?
Yes, if she wants to go to the Utah State Hospital and the hospital accepts her. If she doesn’t want to go, a commitment would require a mental health professional and a judge to get involved.