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Captor of Elizabeth Smart agrees to 15-year prison term

Wanda Barzee will also testify against her husband, who she says kidnapped the Utah teenager in 2002.

November 18, 2009|Nicholas Riccardi

DENVER — A woman who helped her husband keep kidnap victim Elizabeth Smart enslaved for nine months agreed Tuesday to serve 15 years in federal prison after admitting her role in the abduction.

Wanda Eileen Barzee, 64, also agreed to testify against her husband, Brian David Mitchell, whose attorneys claim he is not mentally competent to stand trial on charges relating to the 2002 kidnapping of Smart, then 14. Smart's disappearance and the nationwide search for her captivated the country.

"I'm so sorry, Elizabeth, for all the pain and suffering I caused you and your family," Barzee said in federal court in Salt Lake City, where she pleaded guilty to kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor. "It is my hope you will be able to find it in your heart to forgive me."

Smart, now 22, was not in the courtroom. She testified last month that Mitchell, a self-proclaimed prophet who wanted her to be a plural bride, snatched her from her bedroom in Salt Lake City in March 2002 and brought her to a remote camp, where he held her with Barzee's help.

Smart testified that Barzee was jealous of Mitchell's relationship with her, which included repeated rapes, but that Barzee complied with his directives to keep Smart a captive.

Barzee, Mitchell and Smart were spotted on a street in a Salt Lake City suburb in March 2003, nine months after the abduction.

Defense attorneys for Mitchell and Barzee argued that the two suffered from mental illnesses that prevented them from being competent to stand trial.

Barzee called herself the "mother of Zion" and claimed to receive messages from God through her television. Doctors said that, after several years in a mental hospital and a forced regimen of psychotropic drugs, Barzee was competent to stand trial on kidnapping charges. She would have faced a possible life sentence if convicted.

"Today's agreement means that Elizabeth Smart will not have to testify at trial against Ms. Barzee," U.S. Atty. Brett Tolman said in a statement. "It is our belief that this outcome will begin to bring long-awaited closure to Elizabeth and her family."

Mitchell, 56, was found mentally incompetent to face the charges in state court, but federal prosecutors hope to prove at a hearing starting Nov. 30 that he is sane enough to face charges in federal court.

Barzee and authorities agreed that she would serve a 15-year sentence provided she cooperates with the prosecution of Mitchell. Her formal sentencing is being delayed.

On Monday a federal judge approved the prosecution's list of witnesses for Mitchell's competency hearing. The witnesses include a forensic psychiatrist who contends in a 206-page report that Mitchell is malingering.

Lay witnesses who are not medical professionals also may testify that, in their opinions, Mitchell is faking mental illness to avoid punishment.

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nicholas.riccardi@latimes.com

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