TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) – The woman who kidnapped Utah teen Elizabeth Smart 16 years ago in a bizarre plot to procure a child bride for her husband will be released from prison Sept. 19, the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole announced Monday.
Wanda Barzee and her husband, street preacher and self-proclaimed prophet Brian David Mitchell, kidnapped Smart, who was 14, from her Salt Lake City bedroom in 2002. The couple held the girl captive for nine months in remote camps in the mountains above Salt Lake City and in California.
Smart testified at Mitchell’s 2010 trial that he raped her daily and forced her to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, and watch him have sex with Barzee during her captivity. He considered it God’s will that he marry Smart, she said.
“I pleaded with him not to touch me, but it didn’t work,” she said on the witness stand.
The kidnapping sparked a national news frenzy, which died down as weeks then months passed with no sign of Smart. But nine months later, a passerby in a Salt Lake suburb recognized Smart walking with Barzee and Mitchell. The couple were arrested, and Smart, who is now 30, returned to her family.
Barzee, who testified against her husband, pleaded guilty to aggravated kidnapping and received a 15-year prison sentence. She did not attend a June parole hearing and did not comply with an ordered mental health evaluation, according to the parole board website. After that hearing, the board set a new hearing for 2023, just a year short of her previously announced release date.
“The Board of Pardons may consider an earlier rehearing if Ms. Barzee is willing to cooperate with a Mental Health Evaluation,” the board said in a statement after the June hearing.
But the board changed the release date after recalculating Barzee’s time served, counting her previously uncredited time in federal custody toward her sentence.
“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 Tuesday. “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.”
In 2010, after years of delays over Mitchell’s competency and the trial venue, Mitchell was convicted of kidnapping and transporting a minor across state lines for sex. U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball sentenced him to life in prison.
“This is an unusually heinous and degrading set of facts and circumstances that lasted for nine months, and it’s certainly even horribly unusual for this kind of crime. We know the facts here, and this is a horrible crime, and a life sentence does reflect the seriousness,” Kimball said when handing down the sentence.
Mitchell is not eligible for parole.