Emotional Wanda Barzee says Brian David Mitchell used family, religion, music to manipulate her
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — It was an emotional day of testimony Friday for Wanda Barzee who said her estranged husband, accused of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart, is a great liar and manipulator.
Barzee took the witness stand for the second day on Friday. For nearly five hours, Barzee was asked tough questions about her involvement in kidnapping Smart. At several points during her testimony she choked up and wiped away tears as she talked about how she went along with the plan to abduct Smart, view pornography, drink alcohol and have sex in front of Smart even though she didn't want to.
But she also felt pressure not to be disobedient to what her husband said was God's will.
Dora Corbett, Barzee's 89-year-old mother, sat in the front row of the courtroom gallery Friday and also was seen wiping away tears at times. After court was over, Corbett walked over to Smart and briefly chatted in private.
Barzee's appearance in court Thursday and Friday marked the first time Smart had seen her since she, Barzee and Brian David Mitchell were found walking along State Street in Sandy in 2003, ending Smart's nine-month nightmare ordeal.
During a lengthy cross-examination Friday, prosecutors attempted to convince the jury that Mitchell took note of what meant the most to Barzee — family, religion, music — and used those items as tools to manipulate her.
Each time Mitchell wanted to get Barzee to do something, he would tell her that he had a revelation from God, according to prosecutors. Because being obedient to God's commands was very important to her, Barzee said she went along with the revelations, even when she personally didn't feel it was right.
"Is it your feeling you were manipulated by the defendant?" asked assistant U.S. attorney Felice Viti.
"Yes," Barzee replied.
"Would you ever have done those things you did without those manipulations?"
"He's a good liar, isn't he?"
"He's a great deceiver," Barzee said.
Barzee, who was found competent to stand trial in 2009 and quickly reached plea deals in both her state and federal cases shortly after, was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison in Fort Worth, Texas, earlier this year. She returned to the stand Friday in a striped Davis County Jail uniform and shackles. She is being held in the Davis facility while back in Utah.
Barzee was declared incompetent to stand trial for many years following her arrest. Her competency was restored after the state court ruled she could be involuntarily medicated.
"They told me I had a mental illness, but I couldn't see it at the time," Barzee testified.
Today, Barzee takes medication and sees a psychologist once a week.
Barzee seemed more focused on the witness stand on Friday compared to Thursday when she tended to drift or ramble when asked questions. Although speaking in a soft voice all day and occasionally getting off track when asked a question, Barzee was also sharp enough to give exact dates when asked about specific events.
When asked Friday if she believed Mitchell had mental health problems, she replied, "Yes."
But during cross-examination, Viti indirectly pointed out to the jury that Barzee, who never took any medication during the nine months Smart was kidnapped, still pled guilty once her competency was restored and did not use the insanity defense.
After an extremely rough first year of marriage to Mitchell, Barzee said, she tried to make her second year better by being more submissive and not arguing with Mitchell as much. Her tendency to be obedient and do what she was told would become a pattern in their relationship, according to prosecutors, from the journey she and her husband took across America through Smart's kidnapping.
Over time, Mitchell made Barzee stop attending church, took away her chance to play the piano or organ and forced her to cut off contact with her family even though he had contact with his.
Even when they were regularly attending their LDS ward, home life wasn't normal.
Barzee recalled the story Friday, often choking up, about an occasion when Mitchell took the rabbit of Barzee's 10-year-old daughter, cooked it and served it to the young girl to eat for dinner.
"Brian had me tell her it was chicken," she said.
Mitchell, who, she said, had a temple recommend at the time, gloated over the incident.
During their "journey of the world," which found Mitchell and Barzee moving to new states every few months, one of the places Mitchell did his "ministering" was South Beach, Fla., where he would panhandle in his robes while surrounded by topless girls in string bikinis, Barzee testified.
In 1999, Mitchell announced to Barzee that he had received a revelation from God directing him to begin practicing celestial, or plural marriage. Barzee said she reacted by collapsing into his arms and crying.
"It was hard to bear that I was going to share another woman with him," she said.
To calm her, Mitchell gave Barzee a blessing and said she would be the "mother of Zion."
"I had to be perfect, as much as I could," Barzee said she worried about her new role. "Being perfect included obeying him, no matter how much you didn't want to do it, regardless of how much it hurt (me)."
It was revealed in court Friday that the number of "sister wives" Mitchell ultimately hoped to have was in the range of 350.
Mitchell began a relationship with a woman named Kelly. Barzee became extremely jealous because Mitchell seemed to no longer pay attention to her, she said.
To ease her jealously, Mitchell gave Barzee the "power of Sarah," or veto power over any potential sister wife. In the Old Testament, Sarah was the wife of Abraham. Mitchell, however, continued to have sex with Kelly, Barzee said.
By 2001, after several failed attempts to find an adult woman to become one of the sister wives, Mitchell had another revelation.
"He gave me a priesthood blessing to say that because there wasn't anybody who'd listen to us … we were given the commandment to take young girls between the age, I remembered, of 10 to 14 years old," Barzee testified.
Mitchell wanted to find a 14-year-old girl and would look for her while he was "ministering" or panhandling, in downtown Salt Lake City.
"He'd go downtown to minister and stalk young girls out, try to find out where they lived," Barzee said.
For Barzee, it meant more internal struggles.
On April 30, 2002, Mitchell told Barzee he had yet another revelation.
"We were told that we were to go forth in five weeks, the night of June 4, and the Lord would open up the way for us to obtain our first wife," Barzee testified.
The first four weeks were "temporal preparation," she said. For Mitchell, that meant getting his campsite in the foothills ready, including getting a cable to tether their new sister wife. The last week was for "spiritual preparation," she said.
Mitchell was a very good planner and wanted to make sure he concealed his future child bride, Barzee said.
"During this time, he was concerned about being caught by the police, wasn't he?" Viti questioned.
"Yes," replied Barzee.
Barzee said she was "devastated" by having to take a young girl away from her family. But she couldn't be disobedient.
Others have testified in previous court hearings that Mitchell and Barzee got into an argument just prior to Mitchell leaving to walk down the mountain to kidnap Smart. Mitchell, too, was allegedly struggling over following God's commands versus not wanting to kidnap Smart. Barzee told Mitchell he also had to follow God's orders.
But during cross-examination, Viti got Barzee to say it was Mitchell who implanted the idea of not disobeying God into Barzee's head.
"Are you responsible for kidnapping Elizabeth Smart?" Viti asked very directly.
A visibly upset Barzee said at first she didn't know, and then no, she was not.
Looking back on the situation now, Barzee said the argument she and Mitchell had prior to Smart's kidnapping really didn't have much to do with convincing Mitchell to follow through with the plan to take Smart.
"He seemed to be above that. He just wanted to do what he wanted to do," Barzee said. "He didn't seem to be struggling so much. Just yelling at me."
In fact, it seemed unlikely Mitchell would ever follow Barzee's commands, as the prosecution got Barzee to note during cross-examination that Mitchell always had to be in control.
Mitchell often referred to stealing as "plundering," a term found in the Bible, Barzee said. It was how he referred to Smart's kidnapping.
"He never expressed remorse about kidnapping Miss Smart, did he?" Viti asked.
"No," replied Barzee.
Barzee's testimony completed Friday. The trial will now take the next week off for Thanksgiving. When court resumes Nov. 29, the defense is expected to start calling their expert witnesses who are expected to tie the testimonies of the previous week's witnesses together in presenting their insanity defense.
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