The woman who helped kidnap 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart at knifepoint from her bedroom in Salt Lake City 16 years ago is set to be released next week after a surprise reversal by a Utah parole board, according to the Associated Press.
The woman, Wanda Eileen Barzee, helped her husband Brian David Mitchell abduct Smart from her home in 2002. Mitchell, who knew Smart’s family after doing some work on their home, described himself as a prophet named Emmanuel. After the abduction, he performed a mock marriage ceremony and raped and shackled Smart. Until the three were recognized on a street in a Salt Lake City suburb, he held her captive for 9 months, raping her nearly every day and forcing her to drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes. In that time, Mitchell made her wear robes and a veil in public, forbade her from speaking to other people, and threatened to kill her and her family if she attempted to contact anyone else.
Nearly nine years later, Mitchell was sentenced to life in prison. But Barzee, now 72, cooperated in the case against Mitchell. As part of her plea deal, she was sentenced in 2010 to 15 years in a federal prison in Texas; she also separately pleaded guilty on state charges to the attempted kidnapping of Smart’s cousin around a month after Smart’s abduction. In 2016, Barzee completed her federal sentence and was transferred to Utah to serve out the state sentence.
But on Tuesday, the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole announced that it had reversed an earlier decision about Barzee’s sentence. It had previously declined to include her years in federal prison in the calculation and concluded that she would remain in prison through January 2024. Her attorney argued that the state was violating the plea deal by keeping her past her time in federal prison, and the parole board revisited its decision, ultimately agreeing that her time in federal prison should count toward her state sentence.
Smart, now 30 and an advocate for child safety, said in a statement that she was surprised by the decision, calling it “incomprehensible” given Barzee’s refusal to take a psychological exam for her parole hearing.