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Elizabeth Smart calls decision to release her kidnapper 'incomprehensible'

UTAH STATE PRISON — Wanda Barzee, the wife of Brian David Mitchell who helped kidnap Elizabeth Smart and hold her hostage for nine months, will be released from prison next week after serving her entire sentence.

The Utah Board of Pardons and Parole announced Tuesday that it reversed its original decision and determined it had mistakenly not given Barzee credit for her time served in federal prison.

"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," according to a statement from the Board of Pardons and Parole.

Smart released a statement saying she is "surprised and disappointed" with the decision.

"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.

"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."

"Incomprehensible" NEW statement from Elizabeth Smart: “I was surprised and disappointed to learn of the pending release of Wanda Barzee." @ElizSmart responds to news that one of her kidnappers will be released from prison https://t.co/7VMkv8fJAD@KSL5TV@KSLcom@kslnewsradiopic.twitter.com/gunAJ95V88

— Ladd Egan (@laddegan) September 11, 2018

Barzee, 72, along with Mitchell, kidnapped 14-year-old Smart in 2002 and held her captive until their arrests nine months later. After years of court battles over her competency, Barzee pleaded guilty in federal court in 2009 to kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor.

In 2010, Barzee was found competent to proceed in the separate state court case against her. She pleaded guilty and mentally ill in state court to the 2002 attempted kidnapping of Smart's cousin, Olivia Wright, who was also 14 at the time, and sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.

On April 8, 2016, Barzee was returned to Utah after completing her federal prison sentence. A parole hearing was held in June, at which time board members denied her parole. She did not attend that hearing. Her release date at that time was calculated to be Jan. 29, 2024.

But following that parole hearing, Barzee's attorney, Scott Williams, argued that the clock had already been running on his client's state prison sentence while she served her federal sentence. Judges had agreed to run the two sentences concurrently because Barzee cooperated in the federal prosecution of Mitchell, he said.

Williams argued that Barzee had already served more than 15 years, including time in custody after her arrest.

"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. "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."


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. 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.

–Scott Williams, attorney for Wanda Barzee


On Tuesday, the board announced that after taking a closer look, it decided to amend its decision so that she was given credit for her time at the Utah State Hospital and Salt Lake County Jail, as well as credit for her time in federal prison, making her release date in just eight days away.

When she is released, she will have served her entire sentence, so she will not be on parole.

"There will be no state supervision," Williams said Tuesday.

Williams had few comments regarding the board's decision, other than to say he's pleased the information he provided the board helped it reach the right conclusion.

"Obviously I'm happy that they were willing to reconsider," he said.

Although she will not be on state parole, Williams said his client will still be under federal supervision.

When Barzee was sentenced in federal court in 2010, she was sentenced to 15 years in prison. However, the sentence was ordered to start running as of March 12, 2003, according to federal court records, meaning Barzee — who had remained in custody ever since her arrest — had already served half her penalty when she was formally sentenced.

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She was also ordered to serve five years of supervised release once she was released from federal prison. Eric Anderson, deputy chief U.S. probation officer for Utah, said that five years of supervised release doesn't start until Barzee is released from state prison.

According to court records, when Barzee is released, she will have to comply with the requirement of the Sex Offender Registration. She will be required to check in with a probation officer. A special condition of Barzee's release orders her to participate in a mental health treatment program, court records state, and she cannot consume alcohol.

As for Barzee's reaction or her plans once she is released, Williams said he doesn't talk about any conversations he's had with clients.

Where Barzee will live or what she will do once she is released were questions officials could not publicly answer Tuesday. Board of Pardons spokesman Greg Johnson said "The Department of Corrections is working with Ms. Barzee to help her transition to a stable environment."

Smart's father, Ed Smart, also gave a brief statement about the decision Tuesday.

"Elizabeth's big concern is that she doesn't want Wanda coming around her or her children," he said.

View this post on Instagram

It’s only 11:00am and today has already been an eventful day. This morning was the parole hearing for Wanda Barzee, one of the people who kidnapped and held me captive for nine months. The funny side of this morning was I got to the state prison once it was already over 😬, that was just due to a silly mix up. And the good news is she was not released. However what I find troubling is that regardless of her threat level she will be released in 2024, six years from now. It is possible that she could be paroled before then....hopefully not. 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, it also “revealed” his other highly disturbing and dangerous ideas. This is proof to me that she hasn’t changed, and if the prior 15+ years hasn’t changed her I don’t see how the future years will. I will continue to pray that she will never be a threat to myself, my family, or any vulnerable person ever again. A lot can happen between now and the years to come so in the meantime I will continue to make my family my priority, working to advocate and protect victims and children, and live my life the best way I know how.

A post shared by Elizabeth Smart (@elizabeth_smart_official) on

Following Barzee's parole hearing in June, Smart posted on her Instagram account that she found it "troubling" that the woman who kidnapped her might be released in 2024.

"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 six other young girls to all become his wives. It also 'revealed' his other highly disturbing and dangerous ideas.

"This is proof to me that she hasn't changed, and if the prior 15-plus years hasn't changed her I don't see how the future years will. I will continue to pray that she will never be a threat to myself, my family or any vulnerable person ever again."

Mitchell was sentenced to life in federal prison, where there is no parole. The street preacher and self-proclaimed prophet who wrote a 27-page manuscript, told Barzee in 1999 that he had received a revelation from God directing him to begin practicing celestial — or plural — marriage. Mitchell gave Barzee a blessing and said she would be the "mother of Zion."

During another alleged revelation, Mitchell said he was instructed by God to find seven young girls and make them sister-wives.

In 2002, Mitchell broke into Smart's Federal Heights home at night, took her out of her bed, and forced her to go to a campsite in the foothills above her house where she was held hostage.

Mitchell and Barzee later took Smart to San Diego. They were arrested when they returned to Utah and were spotted walking down a street in Sandy several months later.

Contributing: Ladd Egan