UTAH STATE PRISON — The Utah Board of Pardons and Parole changed its mind.
As a result, the woman who helped kidnap Elizabeth Smart and held her hostage for nine months, will now be released from prison next week — a decision Smart calls "incomprehensible."
The board of pardons announced Tuesday that it reversed its June decision to keep Wanda Barzee behind bars until 2024 after determining that it had mistakenly not given her 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," the pardons board said in a prepared statement.
Smart said 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 in a statement.
"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."
Barzee, 72, along with husband Brian David Mitchell, kidnapped Smart in 2002 when she was 14 years old and held her captive until their arrests nine months later. After years of court battles over her competency, Barzee pleaded guilty in 2009 to federal charges of 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 was 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. Barzee 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."
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 spent at the Utah State Hospital and the Salt Lake County Jail, as well as credit for her time in federal prison, making her release date next Wednesday.
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 that the information he provided to 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.
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.
Once she is released, she will meet with a probation officer next week, he said. Though he couldn't get into detail, Anderson said a "transition plan" is being put into place that will include specifics about where Barzee will live and how she will be supervised.
According to federal court records, once 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.
'She hasn't changed'
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.
Following Barzee's parole hearing in June, Elizabeth 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."
The board of pardons confirmed Tuesday that Smart received a phone call a couple of days ago informing her of Tuesday's announcement.
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.85 comments on this story
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
Clarification: A caption for a photo of Elizabeth Smart wearing a veil implied it was taken on March 12, 2003, the day she was found. It was actually taken at a party in Salt Lake City in September 2002.