SALT LAKE CITY — One of Wanda Barzee's nieces hopes that when her aunt is released from prison next week she'll get the help she needs.
"She needs to go somewhere where she can be helped," Tina Mace said Wednesday. "I don't think she should be on the street at all. I don't think she can make it."
Her reaction comes a day after the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole announced that it had erred in calculating Barzee's sentence.
Barzee, 72, along with her then-husband, Brian David Mitchell, kidnapped 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart in 2002 from her home 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 a separate state court case against her. She pleaded guilty and mentally ill in state court to the 2002 attempted kidnapping of Smart's cousin and sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.
After completing her federal prison sentence, Barzee was returned to the Utah State Prison in April 2016.
A parole hearing was held in June, but Barzee declined to attend it. The board determined that if Barzee served her full sentence, she would be released on Jan. 29, 2024.
But after the hearing, Barzee's attorney, Scott Williams, argued that his client's two sentences were supposed to run concurrently and that Barzee had already served her time. The board re-examined the case and agreed with Williams. It announced Tuesday that Barzee's new release date would be Sept. 19.
Mace said from what the family has heard from news reports, they believe Barzee needs mental health treatment and fear she's not getting it in prison, possibly because she's refusing it.
"She needs help," she said, while noting the family is not capable to taking care of her needs once Barzee is released.
Mace recalled how her aunt was "normal" when she and Mitchell were first married and even played piano at Mace's wedding. But she was also vulnerable, and Mitchell was manipulative, she said.
Mace recalled watching her aunt during Mitchell's trial, after she had been medically restored to competency. She recalled watching as Barzee testified against her husband and how she seemed more like her old self.
"I'm just glad she nailed Brian," Mace said. "Because he knew what he was doing."
When Barzee is released from the Utah State Prison, she still has to spend five years under federal supervision. According to the terms of her federal sentence, Barzee will be required to participate in a mental health treatment program and register as a sex offender. She will also be closely monitored by federal probation officers who she will be required to check in with.
She needs to go somewhere where she can be helped. I don't think she should be on the street at all. I don't think she can make it.
–Tina Mace, niece of Wanda Barzee
While it remained unknown Wednesday where Barzee will live, Eric Anderson, deputy chief U.S. probation officer for Utah, said a transition plan was being formulated.
But whether Barzee can ever return to her old self, or even the person she was during Mitchell's trial, Mace said, "I don't know."
"Maybe there is hope she can be medically taken care of," she said.
Mace said she also feels extremely bad for Smart, but is "amazed" at what she has accomplished since the abduction.