UTAH – Former kidnap victim Elizabeth Smart on Tuesday blasted the pending release of one of her captors, calling it “incomprehensible” and saying she was surprised and disappointed.
Wanda Barzee, convicted for her role in Smart’s kidnapping more than 16 years ago, will be released from a Utah prison next week after a surprise reversal by the state’s parole board, reported Fox News.
The Utah Board of Pardons and Parole announced Tuesday that the 72-year-old Barzee would be released on Sept. 19 because the board had failed to give her credit for time served in federal prison.
The parole board previously denied Barzee an early release after declining to include her eight years in federal prison as time served on state charges.
“Upon further review and advice from legal counsel, the board must count time spent in federal custody toward Ms. Barzee’s state sentence,” Greg Johnson of the Utah board said in a letter.
Smart, now 30, said in a statement that she was surprised and disappointed to learn of Barzee’s imminent release.
“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 released just hours after the board decision was made public. “I am trying to understand how and why this is happening and exploring possible options.”
Moreover, Smart said she would speak publicly about Barzee’s release in the coming days once she has “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,” Smart added.
In June 2002, when she was just 14, Smart was kidnapped at knifepoint from her bedroom in Salt Lake City by Barzee and her husband, Brian Mitchell.
Smart was found nine months later while walking with Barzee and Mitchell on a street in the suburb of Sandy; people had recognized the couple from media reports.
The couple was arrested in 2003.
In November 2009, Barzee pleaded guilty to federal charges. In exchange for her plea, she agreed to cooperate in the state and federal cases against Mitchell, her husband.
The next year, she was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison. She was released from a federal prison in Texas after completing her sentence in 2016 — and returned to the Utah prison system to serve a state sentence.
That’s because she had also pleaded guilty in state court to attempted kidnapping in connection to a plot to kidnap Smart’s cousin.
The month after they kidnapped Smart, Barzee and Mitchell attempted to break into the home of Smart’s cousin but were unsuccessful, prosecutors said.
Barzee was sentenced to one to 15 years in state prison to be served concurrently with her federal sentence.
On Tuesday, the parole board said she has now completed both her sentences.
In June, the parole board calculated her sentence would continue through January 2024, however that did not account for time served in federal prison.
Mitchell is serving two life term sentences in federal prison for kidnapping and sexual assault.
During Mitchell’s trial, Smart testified she was taken from her bed and marched up a rugged mountain path in her red silk pajamas, CNN reported.
When they reached Mitchell’s remote camp, Smart testified she was “sealed” to her captor in a marriage ceremony, raped and shackled between two trees with a metal cable. She said she was degraded and treated “like an animal.”
Smart said she was raped nearly every day during nine months in captivity and forced to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes and watch Mitchell have sex with his legal wife, Wanda Barzee.
She was forced to wear robes and a veil in public and was not permitted to speak to other people. She said she feared Mitchell would act on his threats to kill her and her family if she did.
She said Mitchell told her their marriage was preordained and that she would be by his side as he took seven times seven wives and successfully battled the Antichrist. They would hold exalted positions in God’s new kingdom, she was told.
Smart, now married with two children, has written a book about the harrowing ordeal and helped make a Lifetime movie and documentary about the crime and her life. She is now a child safety activist.