In 2002, Elizabeth Smart, a Salt Lake City 14-year-old girl from a Mormon family, was abducted, raped, and held for nine months by self-proclaimed prophet Brian David Mitchell and his wife Wanda Barzee.
Barzee was sentenced in 2009 to 15 years in prison after testifying against her husband and admitting her role in Smart’s kidnapping and imprisonment.
But in a surprising move announced by state authorities on Tuesday, the 72-year-old woman will be released from prison next week, six years earlier than her original sentence dictated.
The Utah Board of Pardons and Parole determined Tuesday it had miscalculated the time Bazee had previously served in federal custody, according to their statement.
"Upon further review and advice from legal counsel, the board must count time spent in federal custody toward Ms. Barzee’s state sentence. Therefore, Ms. Barzee’s state sentence ends on Sept. 19, 2018," the office said. Following Barzee’s release, she will be under federal supervision for five years.
Smart, now 30 years old, released a statement following the news, saying she is taken aback by the state’s decision.
"I was surprised and disappointed to learn of the pending release of Wanda Barzee. 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 the Tuesday statement.
She continued: “I am trying to understand how and why this is happening and exploring possible options. 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."
Her father, Ed Smart, also expressed concerns about Tuesday’s decision.
"Elizabeth’s big concern is that she doesn’t want Wanda coming around her or her children," he said to KSL.
He did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for additional comment.
In 2010, Barzee pleaded guilty to state charges for attempted kidnapping in connection with a plot to kidnap Smart’s cousin in July 2003. She was sentenced to 15 years but was credited for the seven years she’d already spent behind bars in both the Utah State Hospital and Salt Lake County Jail.
She returned to Utah in 2016 after completing her federal sentence in Texas to begin serving her Utah prison sentence.
At a hearing in June, which Barzee did not attend, the Utah board denied her request for an early parole and set her release date for January 2024. Her attorney, Scott Williams, pushed back on the proposed released date, saying the judges had agreed to run her two sentences concurrently since Barzee cooperated in the federal prosecution of her husband.
“I’m trying to understand how the state of Utah thinks they can hold her more than 15 years on a 15-year sentence maximum,” he said to reporters at the time. “I didn’t ever expect Wanda Barzee to come back to the Utah State Prison, and in my opinion, neither did any of the representatives of the state of Utah or the United States government that I negotiated with.”
Following the June hearing, Smart wrote on Instagram that she was worried about Barzee's release after learning of Barzee’s continued connection with her husband.
“I do not think I’m a vindictive or vengeful person, if change were truly possible in her case then perhaps parole/release could be justified. But I have recently learned that she is still carrying around a manuscript called, ‘The Book of Immanuel David Isaiah’ and is reading from it. In this manuscript were the ‘revelations’ Mitchell ‘received’ from God to kidnap myself and 6 other young girls to all become his wives,” Smart wrote on Instagram. “I will continue to pray that she will never be a threat to myself, my family, or any vulnerable person ever again.”
Despite Smart’s reservations, the board’s decision on Tuesday concurs with Barzee’s attorney’s argument to factor in her time served at the Utah State Hospital and Salt Lake County Jail as well as her time in federal prison, making her release date just eight days away.
Barzee’s husband, Brian David Mitchell, was sentenced to life in prison in 2011 for what the judge called his “unusually heinous” crimes. His trial was originally delayed for years after he was found mentally incompetent.
Smart, now a mother of two, detailed her nine-month-long abduction by Mitchell and Barzee in her 2013 book titled My Story.