Elizabeth Smart's co-captor released from prison: 10 things to know

Authorities miscalculated amount of time Wanda Barzee should serve

Elizabeth Smart (Getty file photo)
Elizabeth Smart (Getty file photo) (Getty Images)

Updated at 11 a.m.:

Wanda Barzee was released Wednesday from a Utah prison after 15 years in custody.

Original story:

It’s a story that made national headlines when it first happened and when Elizabeth Smart was rescued, but even 16 years later, the details remain just as horrifying. When Smart was 14 years old, a man broke into her family’s home in Salt Lake City, sneaked into her bedroom while she was sleeping and abducted her at knifepoint.

The man, Brian David Mitchell, is serving a life sentence. But his wife and the co-captor of Smart, Wanda Barzee, is set to be released from federal prison Wednesday. She is now 72.

The news of Barzee's impending release came as a shock to many, including Smart, 30, who works as a child safety activist.

Smart was held by Mitchell and Barzee for nine months in Utah and California before her rescue in 2003.

We’ve compiled a list of 10 things to know, to catch yourself up with the case and review where it stands today.

Wanda Barzee (Getty file photo)

1.) Smart still considers Barzee “a danger to the public.”

Smart originally wanted officials to reconsider their decision on Barzee’s release, but then said it appeared there was no viable, legal recourse she could take to stop it from happening.

"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 (she was) being raped, but encouraged her husband to continue to rape me,” Smart said in an Associated Press report. “So, do I believe she I dangerous? Yes, but not just to me. I believe that she is a danger and a threat to any vulnerable person in our community.”

2.) Smart just recently learned that Barzee would be freed.

Smart and her father called the situation “a reminder of the checks and balances the criminal justice system needs,” according to the AP. Why wasn't Smart notified sooner? Does credit for time served always make sense, especially in a situation such as this? Unfortunately, we don’t have many answers.

3.) Utah officials determined they miscalculated Barzee’s prison sentence.

Barzee wasn't expected to be released for at least another five years. But the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole said it hadn't credited Barzee’s sentence in the state system with the time she served in federal prison.

When she was sentenced, a judge ordered her to serve one to 15 years in state prison, which would be done concurrently with the federal sentence. On Sept. 11, the parole board said she had completed both sentences.

"Upon further review and advice from legal counsel, the Board must count time spent in federal custody toward Ms. Barzee's state sentence," the board said in a statement. "Therefore Ms. Barzee's state sentence ends on September 19, 2018."

The 15-year federal prison sentence was handed down in exchange for Barzee’s cooperation in state and federal cases against Mitchell, CNN reported.

4.) Smart has acknowledged that Barzee was manipulated by Mitchell, but said she blames Barzee just as much.

“She would encourage him to rape me,” Smart said in an interview with CBS. “She would sit right next to me. Like, the side of her body would be touching me.”

Brian David Mitchell (Getty file photo)

5.) Along the same lines, Smart has said she never felt as if she had anyone in her corner during the time she was held captive.

When asked if she had been relieved -- right after she was kidnapped, still in her pajamas -- to arrive at the camp Mitchell had made in the foothills and find that there was a woman there, Smart said no.

“I don't know. (There was) just (a) feeling that kind of radiated from her. It just was dark and it was evil,” Smart told Gayle King. “And I just knew that she -- she wasn't there to help me, that she wasn't there to protect me.”

In the same conversation, Smart said Mitchell and Barzee forced her to drink alcohol.

“And I remember -- remember when they used to force me to -- to drink alcohol,” she said to CBS. “And one time they had me drink so much. I was a 14-year-old girl. I'd never touched alcohol in my life -- that I ended up throwing up and then passing out in it. And both of them just let me lie there all night. And when I woke up the next morning, I mean, my face and my hair were completely crusted to the ground. And they both laughed. She laughed. She laughed just as much as he did, if not more.”

Smart has said she was treated like an animal -- shackled, abused and, yet, forced into a “wedding ceremony” with Mitchell, who fancied himself some sort of prophet.

6.) Smart has absolutely nothing to say to Barzee.

When Smart was asked during a news conference last week if she had any sort of message for Barzee, she said no. Smart said she forgave Barzee several years ago, but added that forgiveness does not mean “allowing her back into my life.” Smart made that decision a long time ago, she said.

7.) Barzee has been diagnosed with several mental illnesses.

Yet, she’ll be freed, despite failing to undergo mental health evaluations up until this point, the AP reported.

Barzee’s attorney, Scott Williams, has confirmed that Barzee has been diagnosed with several mental illnesses, but he's said he’s not concerned about her being a danger to the community.

8.) Barzee will be under close surveillance.

She’ll have a federal agent assigned to her, and have to keep that agent informed of where she is living and working, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. Her home will be subject to inspections as well, and she’ll have to undergo some mental health treatment, the newspaper said.
Additionally, Barzee will have to register as a sex offender. She’ll be on probation for 60 months and she is not to have any direct or indirect contact with Smart.

9.) Did you know? One month after Mitchell and Barzee kidnapped Smart, the couple tried to break into the house where Smart’s cousin lived, prosecutors and police said.

They were unsuccessful. Mitchell, who believed in polygamy, might have been attempting to build a collection of wives, authorities said.

The 18-year-old cousin looks a lot like Smart, who had been specifically selected by Mitchell and Barzee, police said.

Elizabeth Smart and her husband, Matthew Gilmour, attend the 43rd Annual Gracie Awards on May 22, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California (Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Alliance for Women in Media).

10.) Smart now works as a speaker as well as an activist.

She wrote a book detailing her kidnapping, which is called “My Story,” and although she lives a private life these days, the Salt Lake Tribune said she is married and currently expecting her third child, according to published reports.

Smart was rescued after some passers-by spotted the trio in a Salt Lake City suburb and called police. Sure enough, it was Barzee, Mitchell and Smart.

Smart has said that she's now at peace, and she doesn't regret what's happened. She uses her experiences to help others, especially through the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, which aims to stop the victimization of children and offer hope to survivors.

About the Author:

Michelle is the Managing Editor of Graham Media Group's Digital Content Team, which writes for all of the company's news websites.