SALT LAKE CITY — Elizabeth Smart said she has done everything she can not to think about Wanda Barzee and move on with her life.
But when she was informed that one of the two people who kidnapped and abused her 15 years ago when she was just 14 was about to be released from prison, she couldn't believe it.
"I have spent the last 15 years trying to leave my fear in the past. I have tried to move on with my life. I have tried to have a family and pursue everything I thought was important in my life. And now, at this point, to be so shocked and surprised by the news," she said on the steps of the state Capitol.
"Are there things I should be concerned about? Absolutely. But I also refuse to go back to that state of fear that I felt when I was kidnapped. I refuse to do that.”
Smart addressed the media Thursday for the first time since news of Barzee's imminent release was announced. She believes, based on information she has received, that Barzee is still "a big threat."
But U.S. Attorney for Utah John Huber promised Thursday that Barzee will be "closely monitored" during her federal probation for the next five years.
Barzee, 72, along with her then-husband, Brian David Mitchell, kidnapped 14-year-old Smart in 2002 from her Salt Lake home and held her captive until their arrests nine months later.
When she was kidnapped, Smart said Barzee would sit next to her while she was being raped by Mitchell and encourage him to continue. Smart said Barzee saw her as a "slave" and called her her "handmaid."
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 was 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. Barzee declined to attend, but it was noted at that time that Barzee had been refusing her anti-psychotic medication and was not attending treatment classes. In July, the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole announced Barzee would be held until Jan. 29, 2024.
On Tuesday, the board said it had made a mistake in calculating when Barzee's prison sentence would expire. The problem was it didn't count Barzee's federal and state sentences as running concurrently, and didn't account for the time she spent in the Utah State Hospital.
Because of that, Barzee will be released on Wednesday after completing her sentence.
Smart says legally, she doesn't know of anything she can do to keep Barzee incarcerated. But she pleaded with the state to re-examine how and when inmates are released, while also urging Barzee's family members to have her civilly committed to the Utah State Hospital.
"I would urge the powers that be and anyone who works under them to really, really strongly reconsider this situation — to look at all the facts, look at her mental status, and see if they really, honestly, truly feel like she is no longer a threat, that she is ready to be released,” she said.
Smart said she has also has heard that Barzee still carries around Mitchell's manuscript, 'The Book of Immanuel David Isaiah,' in which Mitchell claimed he had received revelations from God to kidnap Smart and six other young girls to all become his wives.
"So do I believe that she is dangerous? Yes. But not just to me. I believe that she is a danger and a threat to any vulnerable person in our community, which is why our community should be worried,” Smart said.
Once she is released, Barzee will need to complete her federal sentence by serving five years of supervised release. She will meet with a federal probation officer next week. Probation officials have said that a "transition plan" is being put into place that will include specifics about where Barzee will live and how she will be supervised.
Once Barzee is released, she will have to comply with the requirement of the Sex Offender Registration. She will also be required to participate in a mental health treatment program, court records state, and she cannot consume alcohol.
U.S. Attorney for Utah John Huber said Thursday that he guaranteed the feds will be keeping a close eye on Barzee.
“You can be assured that Wanda Barzee will be closely monitored,” he said. “This is obviously a very high priority case for our office. It has been since our office got the convictions against her and the main perpetrator.”
Barzee, he said, has a “very short leash” on the conditions of her probation, and his office will “take a very serious approach” to any violations and she will brought before a judge for a hearing if that were to happen. Potential penalties could include being returned to federal prison for possibly the remainder of her five-year probation.
“Over the course of the next five years, a judge will have a lot of options to keep victims safe and to help this perpetrator get back on track in life,” Huber said.
The Utah Board of Pardons and Parole issued a new statement Thursday saying the law requires Barzee to be released next week.
"The board has heard concerns and requests to reconsider releasing Wanda Barzee. This is not an early release or a discretionary release. On Sept. 19, Ms. Barzee will have spent 15 years in custody, which is the maximum amount of time allowed by her state conviction and sentence. Ms. Barzee cannot legally be held in the Utah State Prison beyond the length of her sentence," said Greg Johnson, the board's director of administrative services.
When asked if Smart and her family should be surprised that Barzee is getting out after 15 years if she was given a 15-year sentence, former U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman, who brought Mitchell's case from the state court system to the federal system and who still represents Smart today, said yes.
Tolman said he isn't sure if the problem is a gap in the law. But for one, he doesn't believe defendants should get it "both ways." Tolman said he was surprised that Barzee got credit for the time she was at the Utah State Hospital.
Tolman said it's not right "if you’re asserting you’re incompetent, refusing to do those things that would allow you to face charges, and then (get) credit for the time that you’re not facing charges."
He also isn't sure about the law intended for state and federal sentences to run concurrently since they are two different jurisdictions.
"Because in the end, if you’re Elizabeth, you’re the victim in this crime, you’re looking at eight years from the time she finally pled guilty … on an up to 30-year sentence. That’s how she sees it,” he said.
Smart said she doesn't have all the answers for what to do next legally. But she is taking precautions once Barzee is released to keep her and her family safe. And she encourages the community to do the same.23 comments on this story
"I think awareness should be a huge part of it. I think people should realize that she is dangerous. She did appalling things while I was in captivity," she said.
"I know the depth of her depravity. And so I feel our community should be educated on it. But also as a community, I feel, once again, that we should take a second look at our judicial system and see if timed sentences is the correct way or if there’s another way where we need to review the cases."
Contributing: Dennis Romboy