Woman pleads guilty, apologizes in Smart abduction
Associated Press Writer
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – Seven years after she was abducted at knifepoint, Elizabeth Smart finally has an apology – and a guilty plea – from one of her kidnappers.
“I am so sorry, Elizabeth, for all the pain and suffering I have caused you and your family,” Wanda Eileen Barzee, 64, said Tuesday. “It is my hope that you will be able to find it in your heart to forgive me.”
The appeal came minutes after Barzee pleaded guilty to federal charges of kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor in U.S. District Court.
She also said she was “humbled as I realize how much Elizabeth Smart has been victimized and the role that I played in it.”
Smart, now 22 and preparing to serve a mission in Paris for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was not in court to hear the apology. But her father, Ed Smart, said outside court that forgiveness was possible.
“Absolutely,” he said. “We all make mistakes in life … and if we can’t forgive each other, heaven help us.”
During the hearing, he said he hoped Barzee realized what she did was “absolutely wrong and absolutely horrible.”
Smart was 14 when she was taken from the bedroom of her Salt Lake City home, sparking a search that riveted the nation. Nine months later, in March 2003, Barzee and her now-estranged husband Brian David Mitchell were arrested after they were spotted walking on a suburban street with Smart.
Elizabeth Smart has said that within hours of the abduction, Mitchell took her as a polygamous wife then raped her. Smart said Barzee washed the teen’s feet and dressed her in robes before the ceremony.
Barzee often became upset over Mitchell’s relationship with Smart, but that sentiment would never last, Smart said.
Barzee’s sentencing was set for May 19.
She could have faced a life sentence for the kidnapping charge and up to 15 years for the other count. However, under the plea deal, she is expected to receive 15 years in prison, with credit for about six years already served.
Barzee’s plea came several weeks after a Utah State Hospital report said 15 months of court-ordered treatments with anti-psychotic medications had restored her competency to stand trial.
She also will plead guilty in state court under the plea deal to one count of conspiracy to commit aggravated kidnapping and will cooperate in state and federal cases against Mitchell.
Twice deemed incompetent in state court, Barzee had been diagnosed as delusional, called herself a “mother of Zion” and claimed to have been receiving messages from God through her television.
In court, the smiling Barzee looked more like a Mormon grandmother than the wild-eyed homeless woman in white robes who was known on the streets by the name “God Adorn Us” and panhandled near the headquarters of the Mormon church.
Her defense attorney Scott Williams said Barzee has been transformed.
“Wanda is a person who is a different person than the person who was arrested,” Williams said after the hearing. “In the state she was in, she didn’t know (the kidnapping) was wrong, it was a commandment of God. Now it’s horribly wrong.”
In a statement, U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman touted the plea deal as an appropriate resolution and said the sentence would be just and fair.
Reading from the agreement, U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball asked Barzee if it was true that she had “aided and abetted Mitchell in the confinement, control and sexual assault” of Smart and in her transportation from Utah to California between October 2002 and March 2003.
“True,” Barzee answered in a quiet but firm voice.
A 10-day competency hearing in Mitchell’s case is set to begin Nov. 30 in federal court. Mitchell, 56, and Barzee were indicted on federal charges in March 2008.
Williams said Barzee has not yet been subpoenaed to testify at the upcoming hearing.
Mitchell, a one-time itinerant street preacher, is accused of taking Smart as a wife in order to fulfill a religious prophecy included in a 27-page manifesto he wrote called “The Book of Immanuel David Isaiah.”
Smart said she was raped daily by Mitchell throughout her nine months of captivity. She said he threatened to harm her if she ever tried to escape.