Niece: Fam­ily won’t take in Elizabeth Smart’s kidnapper

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ) - - NEWS - By Lind­say White­hurst

SALT LAKE CITY » Once an accomplished or­gan player in Salt Lake City, Wanda Barzee be­came a dis­turb­ing fig­ure for mem­bers of her own fam­ily af­ter she helped in the 2002 kid­nap­ping of then-teenager Elizabeth Smart.

Days be­fore the 72-yearold woman is re­leased from prison, loom­ing fears about whether she re­mains a threat and calls to keep her off the streets bring up deep-rooted ques­tions about men­tal-health treat­ment in the na­tion’s pris­ons, an ex­pert said.

And de­tails of the crime still hor­rify Barzee’s niece, Tina Mace.

“It just makes you ill. How could any­one do that?” she said.

Her aunt played the or­gan at her wed­ding decades ago, be­fore Barzee joined Mitchell as he acted on his so-called rev­e­la­tions from God.

Like Smart, Mace is alarmed by the sur­prise an­nounce­ment this week by Utah au­thor­i­ties, who said they had mis­cal­cu­lated her aunt’s sen­tence and would re­lease her from prison on Sept. 19

“From what I know, no fam­ily can take her in or would take her in,” Mace said.

Fed­eral agents have found a place for Barzee to live when she starts her five-year su­per­vised re­lease, said Eric An­der­son, the deputy chief U.S. Pro­ba­tion Of­fi­cer for Utah.

He de­clined com­ment on whether she will be in a pri­vate home or a fa­cil­ity, but she “will not be home­less,” he said.

Barzee has served the 15year sen­tence she got in a plea deal the year she tes­ti­fied against street preacher Brian David Mitchell, her then-hus­band who kid­napped the girl from her bed­room at knife­point.

Dur­ing her months in cap­tiv­ity, Smart said the older woman sat nearby and en­cour­aged her hus­band as he raped the teenager.

Smart is now a 30-yearold speaker and ac­tivist who said Thurs­day she’s deeply con­cerned that Barzee re­mains a threat, cit­ing her re­fusal to co­op­er­ate with men­tal-health treat­ment in prison and re­ports that she may still har­bor Mitchell’s be­liefs.

Smart called for au­thor­i­ties to con­sider care­fully whether in­mates have been suc­cess­fully treated be­fore they are re­leased.

But large-scale changes re­quir­ing re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion could pose trou­bling ques­tions, said Rebecca Weiss, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor at the John Jay Col­lege of Crim­i­nal Jus­tice in New York. “We could be in­car­cer­at­ing some­one in­def­i­nitely who has served their sen­tence,” she said.

Treat­ing the dis­pro­por­tion­ate num­ber of peo­ple with men­tal ill­ness in U.S. pris­ons — many of whom are not vi­o­lent — is among the sys­tem’s big­gest chal­lenges. While there is a need to pro­tect the pub­lic, in­mates also have the right to refuse treat­ment.

“The de­gree to which our pris­ons suc­ceed in re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion is ques­tion­able,” Weiss said. “We’re putting a lot on a sys­tem that is over­loaded with fairly un­clear goals.”

Re­peat vi­o­lent sex of­fend­ers can be civilly com­mit­ted in the fed­eral sys­tem, but that re­quires a se­ries of eval­u­a­tions and a judge’s de­ci­sion that they pose an im­mi­nent risk, An­der­son said.

Barzee’s lawyer has main­tained she’s not a threat. At­tor­ney Scott Wil­liams did not im­me­di­ately re­turn a mes­sage seek­ing com­ment. Prison of­fi­cials de­clined to dis­cuss her be­hav­ior be­hind bars or re­lay an in­ter­view re­quest.

She was treated at the Utah State Hospi­tal for about five years fol­low­ing her ar­rest. She tes­ti­fied in 2010 against Mitchell.

Barzee de­scribed a “hellish” first year of mar­riage that eased af­ter she “learned to be sub­mis­sive and obe­di­ent,” and his later pro­nounce­ment that it was “God’s will” they sell their pos­ses­sions and travel the coun­try wear­ing long robes.

Even­tu­ally, Mitchell kid­napped then-14-year-old Smart, forced her into a polyg­a­mous “mar­riage” and raped her al­most daily.

She was found nine months later, while walk­ing with Barzee and Mitchell on a street in the Salt Lake City sub­urb of Sandy.

Barzee’s tes­ti­mony against him seemed like a turn­ing point, but her men­tal state ap­pears to have changed in her sub­se­quent years in fed­eral and state pris­ons, Mace said.

Mitchell is serv­ing a life sen­tence.

Look­ing back on the cap­tiv­ity, Smart said Thurs­day that she be­lieves the older woman who treated her as a “hand­maiden” and a “slave” was ma­nip­u­lated by her hus­band at times. “But she, in her own right, abused me as much as he did.”

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