After spending more than 15 years behind bars for her role in Elizabeth Smart’s kidnapping, Wanda Barzee is now free.
Her attorney said she intends to keep it that way. Barzee promised him that she would follow her federal probation — which includes seeking mental health treatment and staying away from the Smart family — and she said she hopes to be left alone.
Hours after the Department of Corrections announced Wednesday morning that Barzee was no longer in their custody, attorney Scott C. Williams told reporters there’s no “reliable evidence” to show that his client poses a threat to the community — contrary to what the Smart family has said.
“It is unfair and counterproductive to assert otherwise without reliable evidence,” Williams said, "and we hope that people will refrain from doing so.”
Smart took to social media after Barzee’s release, thanking those who have supported her over a whirlwind few weeks after Utah’s parole board unexpectedly reversed an earlier decision and announced that Barzee would be freed in a matter of days.
“May we all remain vigilant in watching over our families, friends, and community from anyone who would seek to hurt or take advantage,” she wrote on Instagram. “I truly believe life is meant to be happy and beautiful, and no matter what happens that will remain my goal for me and for my family.”
Smart, who was in Pennsylvania on Wednesday, spoke with reporters briefly ahead of a speech she was scheduled to give at Lock Haven University. She echoed similar sentiments to what she had posted online, and said it was “a statement in my moving forward” that she was able to come to the university to speak about sexual violence.
“I just think the best thing that all of us can do, that I will continue to be, is vigilant in protecting our families, our friends, our communities,” she said. “But also to not live in fear and to move forward with [our] lives. That’s certainly what I plan to do.”
In 2002, Barzee helped her husband, Brian David Mitchell, kidnap then-14-year-old Smart from her Salt Lake City bedroom at knifepoint.
Mitchell raped Smart almost daily during her nine months in captivity, which included a journey to California and back to Utah. Smart was rescued — and Mitchell and Barzee arrested — after the three were spotted on a Sandy street in March 2003.
Barzee has been in custody since then — either in jails, prisons or the Utah State Hospital. In July, the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole said she would stay locked up until at least 2024 then unexpectedly announced last week that it made an error and Barzee would be released.
The sudden reversal angered Smart and her family. The now-30-year-old woman said in a news conference last week that she believes Barzee is still a threat to the public and should not be released.
“She did appalling things when I was in captivity," Smart said. "I know the depths of her depravity.”
Smart had asked “the powers that be” to re-evaluate the decision, but the parole board has reiterated that Barzee has served the maximum time for her one-to-15 year prison term and can no longer legally be held after Wednesday.
Smart’s father, Ed Smart, said Wednesday that his family is concerned that Barzee is still mentally unstable.
“If I felt like she had turned a corner, that she was sound mentally, I wouldn’t feel bad about her getting out,” he said. “If a person serves their sentence, that’s fine. All indications are she’s still in the same mindset that she was when she pushed Brian to come down to the house and abduct Elizabeth.”
Ed Smart said he understood that there was a possibility when Barzee took the plea deal that she could be let out early on her one-to-15 year sentence. But he said he didn’t realize that she could not be held past 15 years if she was still a safety risk.
Barzee now appears on the state’s sex offender registry, though her residence is still listed as the Utah State Prison.
As part of new conditions of her federal release, which were approved by a federal judge Wednesday, Barzee has agreed not to have any contact with any member of the Smart family, and she has agreed to not go to certain areas where the Smart family might be. She also has a 9 p.m. curfew, according to court documents and is expected to reside in an “emergency housing facility” until her probation officer approves another residence.
Williams said Wednesday he is concerned for Barzee’s safety but would not elaborate. He said prison officials did not tell him anything about her Wednesday release but said he had spoken to her recently.
Williams said his hope is "that she somehow be able to matriculate into the community, like I would hope for any person who has served their sentence, and has special challenges due to mental health issues.”
“CBS This Morning” aired part of its interview with Elizabeth Smart early Wednesday in which she said that Barzee’s earlier court-ordered apology was lacking.
"Part of her plea deal back when her case came up — it was required for her to write an apology to me. But it was just a very brief, ‘I’m sorry for what I’ve done, the end,’ kind of thing,” Smart said. “I don’t think you can just kidnap a 14-year-old girl and, you know, not only sit by her while she’s being raped but encourage the rapist to continue…. Then just at the end of it say, ‘I’m sorry,’ and really mean it.”
Smart reiterated that she has forgiven Barzee.
“I don’t feel that I could’ve moved forward in my life had I still been holding onto hate and anger inside me because that would still be taking up a percentage of my soul,” Smart told the TV program. “And that means that, you know, I wouldn’t be able to love my own children 100 percent, love my husband 100 percent, because a part of me would still be taken up with anger.”
Barzee pleaded guilty to federal charges in late 2009 and state charges in 2010. She was sentenced to prison that year and was given credit for the seven years she had spent in custody up to that point.
At Mitchell’s 2011 trial, Barzee called him “a great deceiver” who used religious blessings and revelations to gain her cooperation.
Mitchell is currently serving a life sentence in federal prison.
Barzee was released from a federal prison in Texas in 2016 after completing her sentence in Smart’s kidnapping.
But she also had pleaded guilty in state court to attempted kidnapping in connection to a plot to kidnap Smart’s cousin in July 2002, about a month after Mitchell and Barzee abducted Smart.
When calculating a release date in state prison, the parole board counted credit for time served in jail and the state hospital before she was convicted but did not include the time spent in federal prison. It was later determined that the board legally must count that time Barzee spent in federal prison toward her state sentence, officials said last week.
Barzee will be on federal supervision, often called probation, for five years. The terms of her probation include completing mental health treatment — something she refused to do while serving her state sentenced at the Draper prison. Barzee also must comply with standard probation terms, such as reporting to her assigned agent and informing the agent of where she is living and working. She also must submit to home inspections.
Utah’s U.S. Attorney John Huber said last week that if Barzee violates these conditions, she 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.