In a surprise reversal from the Utah Board of Pardons, the woman who pleaded guilty to helping kidnap Elizabeth Smart will be released from prison Sept. 19.
Wanda Barzee was sentenced to up to 15 years in state prison for her role Smart's 2002 kidnapping.
In a July decision, the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole denied the 72-year-old early release. It also refused to include Barzee's time spent in federal custody toward her state sentence and calculated a release date of Jan. 29, 2024. But now, the board has reversed course.
"Upon further review and advice from legal counsel, the Board must count time spent in federal custody toward Ms. Barzee's state sentence," Greg Johnson, the board's director of administrative services said in a statement. "Therefore, Ms. Barzee's state sentence ends on September 19, 2018."
In a statement, Smart said she is "surprised and disappointed" by 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.
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 and her husband Brian David Mitchell kidnapped 14-year-old Smart from her Salt Lake City home in 2002. They held her captive for nine months, during which Smart said she was raped repeatedly, and were arrested in 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.
Barzee's husband Brian David Mitchell is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole in a high-security federal prison in Arizona.
"I credit the board of pardons, especially under a high-scrutiny case, to reconsider and change their decision when they realized they were mistaken," said Barzee's attorney Scott Williams.
Williams said he does not discuss his conversations with clients, but said Barzee will be under federal supervision upon her release.