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Elizabeth Smart Says Kidnapper Wanda Barzee Is Still ‘Dangerous’

Nicole Nixon / KUER
Elizabeth Smart speaks to reporters after learning one of her kidnappers, Wanda Barzee, will be released from prison Sept. 19.

Elizabeth Smart urged "the powers that be" to "strongly reconsider" the prison release of kidnapper Wanda Barzee from prison next week.

In an impromptu news conference at the Utah State Capitol Thursday afternoon, Smart said she believes Barzee is still a threat to the public and encouraged the 72-year-old’s family to have her committed to the Utah State Hospital.

"She is a woman who had six children and yet could co-conspire to kidnap a 14-year-old girl and not only sit next to her while being raped, but encourage her husband to continue to rape me," Smart said.

"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."

The Utah Board of Pardons and Parole said this week it had miscalculated time Barzee spent in custody and her sentence will end next Wednesday, more than five years earlier than expected.

"At this time, there doesn’t seem to be any viable legal recourse for me to take" to keep Barzee behind bars, Smart said. "I think we do need to take a closer look at our justice system and see if this is really the best system that we have."

Barzee and her husband Brian David Mitchell kidnapped Smart from her Salt Lake City home in 2002. They held her captive for nine months and were arrested in March 2003.

After years of court battles and mental competency evaluations, Barzee pleaded guilty in 2009 to kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor in federal court and was sentenced to up to 15 years in prison. Mitchell is serving a life sentence in federal prison.

Smart acknowledged the possibility that Barzee was manipulated by Mitchell, who called himself a prophet.

“Wanda Barzee saw me as her slave. She called me her handmaiden and she never hesitated to let her displeasure with me be known," Smart said.

"There were times when, yes, absolutely, she was manipulated by Mitchell. But she in her own right abused me as much as he did," she said.

Barzee will spend five years under federal supervision and will be ordered to undergo mental health treatment upon her release. She is also barred from consuming alcohol and will register as a sex offender.

U.S. Attorney for Utah John Huber on Thursday pledged that Barzee will be "closely monitored." Barzee could face more prison time if she violates conditions of her release.

In the 15 years since she was found safe and her captors arrested, Smart said she has tried to forget the fear she felt during those nine months. But the news that Barzee would be released five years sooner than expected “shocked and surprised” her.

“Are there things that 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,” Smart said. “There are cautions that I am taking to protect my family and myself.”

Nicole Nixon holds a Communication degree from the University of Utah. She has worked on and off in the KUER Newsroom since 2013, when she first joined KUER as an intern. Nicole is a Utah native. Besides public radio, she is also passionate about beautiful landscapes and breakfast burritos.
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