SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A woman convicted of helping a former street preacher kidnap Elizabeth Smart in 2002 will be freed from prison more than five years earlier than expected, a surprise decision that Smart called “incomprehensible” on Tuesday.
Wanda Barzee, 72, will be released Sept. 19 after the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole determined it had miscalculated the time she was required to serve in prison, board spokesman Greg Johnson said.
Barzee pleaded guilty to kidnapping Smart and helping keep her captive for nine months before then-teenager was found and rescued.
Smart, now 30, said in a statement she was “surprised and disappointed” to learn that Barzee will be freed next week. She said she’s exploring her options and plans to speak publicly in the coming days.
“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.
The board said previously that Barzee would be released in January 2024 after it denied her an early parole following a hearing that she chose not to attend. At that June hearing, the board said Barzee had refused to take a psychological exam.
At the same hearing, her attorney questioned the calculation of her release date. Lawyer Scott Williams said Tuesday he appreciates that the board reviewed it and agreed with his assessment.
Williams said he’s not concerned about Barzee being a danger to the community, but declined to say why. Williams has said Barzee has been diagnosed with several mental illnesses.
Smart’s abduction from her Salt Lake City bedroom at knifepoint by a man who came in through an open kitchen window triggered waves of fear around the country.
Smart was found while walking with Barzee and Mitchell on a street in the suburb of Sandy, Utah, by people who recognized the couple from media reports.
Mitchell is serving a life sentence after being convicted of kidnapping and raping Smart. He and Barzee were married at one point.
Barzee has been in custody for a total of 15 years from the time she was arrested in March 2003. She was convicted of both state and federal crimes. She was transferred to the Utah state prison in April 2016 after finishing a federal sentence in Texas.
Smart, now married with two children, has written a book about the ordeal and helped make a Lifetime movie and documentary. She is now a child safety activist who regularly gives speeches.
She said in her statement she appreciates the support she’s receiving and vowed to work to address the issue of Barzee’s release so the same thing doesn’t happen again.
Barzee will be under federal supervision for five years.