This week, the Utah Board of Pardons announced that Wanda Barzee, who aided in kidnapping then-teenager Elizabeth Smart in 2002, will be freed from prison on September 19th. Smart, now a 30-year-old mother of two who works as a child safety advocate, said she was “surprised and disappointed” by the decision to free one of her captors.
“It is incomprehensible how someone who has not cooperated with her mental-health evaluations or risk assessments and someone who did not show up to her own parole hearing can be released into our community,” Smart said in a statement upon learning of Barzee’s release.
In 2010, Barzee was sentenced to two 15-year federal- and state-prison terms for the kidnapping of Smart in June 2002, and the attempted kidnapping plot of Smart’s cousin, Olivia Wright, the following month. Barzee admitted to helping her husband, Brian David Mitchell, a self-anointed prophet, kidnap 14-year-old Smart from her Salt Lake City bedroom at knifepoint. During the nine-month ordeal, Smart was forced to “marry” Mitchell, treated like a slave by Barzee, was denied food and water for days at a time, and was raped almost daily.
In March 2003, Smart was rescued by police just 18 miles from her home in the suburb of Sandy, Utah, after two locals recognized Mitchell and Barzee from an episode of America’s Most Wanted. In her memoir, My Story, published in October 2013, Smart wrote about how Mitchell threatened to kill her if she ever attempted to escape. By the time she was finally rescued, Smart had become so terrified of her captor that she was reluctant to confirm her identity to police.
“Why didn’t I cry out for help?” Smart wrote. “Fear for my life. Fear for my family.”
Barzee, 72, served her federal prison time in Texas, and then in 2016, she was transferred back to Utah to serve out her state sentence. In June, at a parole hearing Barzee refused to attend, the parole board denied a request to count her eight years in federal prison towards her state sentence as time served, and set her release date for January 2024. That decision was suddenly reversed this week, resulting in Barzee’s new impending release date. She’ll be under federal supervision for the next five years.
“Upon further review and advice from legal counsel, the board must count time spent in federal custody toward Ms. Barzee’s state sentence,” wrote Greg Johnson, the director of administrative services, according to the New York Post. He did not expand upon what led to the decision.
Mitchell, meanwhile, is serving two life sentences in federal prison after being found guilty of kidnapping and sexual assault in May 2011.
“I am trying to understand how and why this is happening and exploring possible options,” Smart’s statement continued. “I plan to speak publicly in the coming days once I have a better understanding. I appreciate the support, love and concern that has already been expressed and will work diligently to address the issue of Barzee’s release as well as to ensure changes are made moving forward to ensure this doesn’t happen to anyone else in the future.”