Barzee competent, doctors say

Published: Saturday, Oct. 17 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Wanda Ilene Barzee at court on Friday, her first trip to court since forced medication was permitted in May.

Rick Egan

For the first time since her arrest six years ago, accused Elizabeth Smart kidnapper Wanda Barzee has been found competent by doctors at the Utah State Hospital to stand trial.

Her defense attorneys will now have their expert witnesses review the hospital's report. If they disagree with the findings, Barzee could have another competency hearing. If her defense team agrees with the hospital's report, however, steps to proceed to a criminal trial could begin.

The ultimate determination of declaring Barzee competent for trial rests with 3rd District Judge Judith Atherton. A hearing has been set for Nov. 19.

Friday, Barzee appeared in Atherton's courtroom for her first review hearing since doctors were given the clearance in May to forcibly administer anti-psychotic medication. Wearing a red blouse, long black skirt, reading glasses and with her hair cut in a bob, Barzee stood next to her attorney, Scott Williams, looking almost like a different woman than when she made her first court appearance in 2003.

Sitting in the courtroom watching the proceedings was Barzee's mother, 88-year-old Dora Corbett.

"I thought she would be," the soft spoken Corbett said when asked if she thought her daughter would be found competent.

Corbett has been corresponding with Barzee through letters at the Utah State Hospital. She said she hadn't received a letter from her in two weeks. But that's a huge difference from when Barzee was first arrested and refused to speak to her mother at all, writing "return to sender" on all of her letters.

Last month, the Associated Press printed letters Barzee had written to Corbett. In them, Barzee sought forgiveness for any pain she had caused and said she expected to spend the rest of her life in prison. She also called herself a victim of Mitchell, along with Smart.

Because of the AP article, Ed Smart, Elizabeth's father, said Friday that he too, was not surprised with the hospital's finding.

Ed Smart is now hopeful the criminal case against Barzee will move forward. Even though in her letters Barzee sounded remorseful about what happened to Elizabeth, Ed Smart said it didn't excuse her for what happened.

"I definitely think she needs to serve (prison) time," he said. "They held (Elizabeth) in a prison for nine months and treated her much differently than (Barzee) will be treated. People can be sorry for what they've done, but there are still consequences."

The Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office was encouraged by the hospital's report, particularly since Barzee's case marked the first time in Utah that a defendant not considered a danger to the community was ordered to be involuntarily medicated for the purpose of restoring competency so they could stand trial.

"I am pleased with this result," deputy district attorney Alicia Cook said. "This is what we all hoped for."

When asked whether the report from the state hospital could stand up to any possible scrutiny from defense experts, Cook said, "I have great trust in the state hospital," while also noting the report, "deserves the thorough look the defense wants."

When asked about looking ahead to the possibility of the criminal case against Barzee moving forward and whether a plea deal would be accepted if offered, Williams said that was all still too far in the future to talk about and other steps in the proceedings had to happen first.

As for the changes he has seen in Barzee over the past six years, Williams simply said it "does my heart good to defend Ms. Barzee," and called her a "gentle, kind and loving" person.

Barzee and her estranged husband and codefendant, Brian David Mitchell, were charged in 2003 by a state grand jury with kidnapping Smart from her Federal Heights home in 2002 and sexually abusing her. In 2008, Barzee and Mitchell were indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of interstate kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor across state lines with the intent to engage in sexual activity. After Atherton denied a petition to forcibly medicate Mitchell, state prosecutors, while not closing their case, opted to let federal prosecutors proceed with their indictment first.

A federal competency hearing for Mitchell was scheduled to resume Nov. 30.

Until Friday, Barzee was found incompetent to stand trial by the state hospital and in all her subsequent reviews. Before the U.S. Supreme Court denied in May a defense petition to review Barzee's forced-medication issue, Barzee had refused, to that point, to take any medication while at the state hospital.

e-mail: preavy@desnews.com

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