The woman convicted for her role in the 2002 abduction of then-14-year-old Elizabeth Smart is expected to walk out of prison Wednesday.
In 2010, Wanda Barzee was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison after being convicted of both state and federal crimes. Her husband, Brian David Mitchell, a street pastor who had worked around the Smart family house before the kidnapping, is serving life in prison for abducting and raping Smart.
Smart was kidnapped on Wednesday, June 5, 2002, from her bedroom in the family’s Salt Lake City home. She shared the room with her younger sister, Mary Katherine. Following consistent local media coverage, Smart’s abduction — and her eventual rescue — grew into an international sensation.
In 2005, a couple years after Smart’s rescue on Wednesday, March 12, 2003, Smart’s little sister told ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer that she remembered a man, later discovered to be Mitchell, enter their bedroom late at night. She said he forced Smart to get up and put her shoes on.
It was two hours before Mary Katherine told her parents that he had forced Smart to leave the home.
“I’m like, ‘Dad, Elizabeth’s gone,’ and he gets up and he goes racing into our room,” she recalled.
During her nine-month abduction, Smart was held captive in a wooded area in Utah, where she was chained to a pair of trees and raped daily by Mitchell, she told then-NBC News anchor Meredith Vieira in 2013.
Smart said during a press conference last week that Barzee would “encourage her husband [Mitchell] to continue to rape me.”
She also described how Barzee would sit by her side as the rapes occurred. Smart says she could see the “evil” in her.
Why is Barzee being released?
When she was sentenced, Barzee received credit for time already served. In 2016, the now-72-year-old criminal was released from federal prison but still faced between one and 15 years in the state penitentiary for a separate attempt to kidnap Smart’s cousin.
One of Elizabeth Smart’s convicted kidnappers is supposed to be released from prison today after 15 years behind bars. Here’s what will happen once she’s out. pic.twitter.com/OItMekVHe9
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) September 19, 2018
Barzee’s attorney, Scott Williams, requested his client receive credit toward her state sentence for the time she spent in federal prison. The Utah Board of Pardons and Parole denied that request, which was made in June, and set Barzee’s sentence to go until 2024.
Then things changed last Tuesday, when the parole board announced the surprising decision to release Barzee on Wednesday, Sept. 19. The move came after the parole board reviewed the felon’s case and discovered part of her time served in federal prison should, in fact, count toward her state sentence, rendering her eligible for early release.
Upon her release, Barzee will be on probation for five years.
How did Smart react?
Smart, now 30 years old, said late last week she was shocked to learn Barzee was being released from prison.
“She is a woman who had six children 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 to rape me,” Smart said. “So do I believe she’s dangerous? Yes.”
"Prior to being kidnapped I was definitely that girl who, you know, loved happily ever after and getting married and having a family… and when I was kidnapped, I remember just feeling like it had all been ripped away from me," Elizabeth Smart says. https://t.co/uNlTrOjJZw pic.twitter.com/sr6N7Zbjc2
— CBS This Morning (@CBSThisMorning) September 19, 2018
Smart went on to say Barzee “saw me as her slave.” She said Mitchell’s co-conspirator “called me her handmaiden” and “never hesitated to let her displeasure with me be known.”
As for Barzee’s family, her niece, Tina Mace, told The Associated Press she is horrified by her aunt’s actions in the early 2000s and has no plans to take in Barzee. Mace said she was, like Smart, surprised to learn Barzee would be released from state custody.
“It just makes you ill,” she said. “How could anyone do that?”
Eric Anderson, deputy chief U.S. probation officer for Utah, said federal agents have found a place for Barzee to live while she serves out her five-year supervised release. He declined to reveal whether the location will be a private home or public facility, noting only that Barzee “will not be homeless.”