Niece of Barzee says no family members ‘can … or would’ take in Elizabeth Smart’s kidnapper

This 2016 file photo provided by the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office shows Wanda Barzee, who was convicted of helping a former street preacher kidnap Elizabeth Smart as a teenager from her Salt Lake City bedroom in 2002. | Photo courtesy of Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office via Associated Press, St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Once an accomplished organ player in Salt Lake City, Wanda Barzee became a disturbing figure for members of her own family after she helped in the 2002 kidnapping of then-teenager Elizabeth Smart.

Days before the 72-year-old woman is released from prison, looming fears about whether she remains a threat and calls to keep her off the streets bring up deep-rooted questions about mental-health treatment in the nation’s prisons, an expert said.

And details of the crime still horrify Barzee’s niece, Tina Mace.

It just makes you ill. How could anyone do that?” she said.

Her aunt played the organ at her wedding decades ago, before Barzee joined Brian David Mitchell as he acted on his so-called revelations from God.

This 2017 photo provided by the Utah Department of Corrections shows Wanda Barzee. | Photo courtesy of the Utah Department of Corrections via Associated Press, St. George News

Like Smart, Mace is alarmed by the surprise announcement this week by Utah authorities, who said they had miscalculated her aunt’s sentence and would release her from prison on Sept. 19.

“From what I know, no family can take her in or would take her in,” Mace said.

Federal agents have found a place for Barzee to live when she starts her five-year supervised release, said Eric Anderson, the deputy chief U.S. Probation Officer for Utah.

He declined to say whether she’ll be in a private home or a facility, but she “will not be homeless,” he said.

Barzee has served the 15-year sentence she got in a plea deal the year she testified against Mitchell, her then-husband and street preacher who kidnapped the girl from her bedroom at knifepoint.

During her months in captivity, Smart said the older woman sat nearby and encouraged her husband as he raped the teenager.

Smart is now a 30-year-old speaker and activist who said Thursday she’s deeply concerned that Barzee remains a threat, citing her refusal to cooperate with mental-health treatment in prison and reports that she may still harbor Mitchell’s beliefs.

Elizabeth Smart speaks during a news conference while her father Ed Smart looks on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018, in Salt Lake City. Smart says it appears there is no viable, legal recourse she can take to stop the release of one of her kidnappers. Smart said at a news conference Thursday in Salt Lake City that she only found out about 72-year-old Wanda Barzee’s release shortly before the public did. | Associated Press photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

Smart called for authorities to consider carefully whether inmates have been successfully treated before they are released.

But large-scale changes requiring rehabilitation could pose troubling questions, said Rebecca Weiss, an assistant professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

“We could be incarcerating someone indefinitely who has served their sentence,” she said.

Treating the disproportionate number of people with mental illness in U.S. prisons – many of whom are not violent – is among the system’s biggest challenges. While there is a need to protect the public, inmates also have the right to refuse treatment.

“The degree to which our prisons succeed in rehabilitation is questionable,” Weiss said. “We’re putting a lot on a system that is overloaded with fairly unclear goals.”

Repeat violent sex offenders can be civilly committed in the federal system, but that requires a series of evaluations and a judge’s decision that they pose an imminent risk, Anderson said.

Barzee’s lawyer has maintained she’s not a threat. Attorney Scott Williams did not immediately return a message seeking comment. Prison officials declined to discuss her behavior behind bars or relay an interview request.

She was treated at the Utah State Hospital for about five years following her arrest, and she testified in 2010 against Mitchell.

In this Dec. 10, 2010, file photo, Brian David Mitchell is escorted by a U.S. Marshall as he arrives at the federal courthouse in Salt Lake City, Utah | Associated Press photo by Colin E Braley, St. George News

Barzee described a “hellish” first year of marriage that eased after she “learned to be submissive and obedient,” and his later pronouncement that it was “God’s will” they sell their possessions and travel the country wearing long robes.

Eventually, Mitchell kidnapped then-14-year-old Smart, forced her into a polygamous “marriage” and raped her almost daily.

She was found nine months later, while walking with Barzee and Mitchell on a street in the Salt Lake City suburb of Sandy.

Barzee’s testimony against him seemed like a turning point, Mace said, but her mental state appears to have changed in her subsequent years in federal and state prisons.

Mitchell is serving a life sentence.

Looking back on the captivity, Smart said Thursday that she believes the older woman who treated her as a “handmaiden” and a “slave” was manipulated by her husband at times.

“But she, in her own right, abused me as much as he did.”

Written by LINDSAY WHITEHURST, Associated Press.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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  • comments September 15, 2018 at 6:24 pm

    She still looks like a lunatic. I still can’t believe they were found in Sandy of all places, just wandering around, wearing odd robes. Just shows you how much the general public has their heads up their *****. And that was before the days of smartphones. LOL

  • Kilroywashere September 16, 2018 at 7:53 pm

    I agree Comments, “the general public has their heads, not up, but inside their cellphones these days. But there are exceptional people out there that still are aware of their surroundings like the good Samaritan, former Ogden police officer that drove in front of my house late at night and called 911 after witnessing a women being beaten against the school fence across the street near my house. It was past 11pm, and needless to say this guy, or observer, parked in front of my house. So as we witnessed the police response going on, we talked and eventually shook hands. The weird thing is he felt guilty about calling 911, and questioned me whether or not he had done the right thing, or should have looked the other way and just driven by. I assured him I would have called tbe police, and YES, don’t even question the fact that you did the right thing or not. Sadly Comments, that is the world we live in. That happened just over 3 weeks ago. But damn if people react to garbage on their cellphone about some politically incorrect structure, like a racial epithet, or using derogatory language toward a specific group or category. Words matter these days, deeds don’t. That is the world these days.

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