Elizabeth Smart is set to discuss the surprise announcement that one of the people who kidnapped her when she was 14 will be released from prison earlier than expected.
Smart will hold a news conference Thursday on the release of 72-year-old Wanda Barzee, who pleaded guilty to helping a former street preacher kidnap Smart in 2002. The girl was held captive for nine months before being found and rescued.
Barzee is expected to be freed next week after 15 years in custody, including time at the state hospital. Utah authorities had decided she should stay in prison for nearly six more years, but announced this week they had miscalculated.
Smart has called it “incomprehensible” that Barzee would be released Sept. 19 despite failing to undergo mental health evaluations or attend a June parole hearing.
Smart, now a 30-year-old speaker and activist, said in a statement Tuesday she was exploring her options.
The Utah Board of Pardons and Parole had denied Barzee early parole following the hearing, which she chose not to attend. They said she had also had refused to take a psychological exam and set a release date in January 2024.
But her attorney questioned whether her release date took into account time she’d served in a federal prison, and on Tuesday the board agreed that she had served her sentence.
Attorney Scott Williams has said Barzee has been diagnosed with several mental illnesses, but he’s not concerned about her being a danger to the community.
Smart was abducted from her Salt Lake City bedroom at knifepoint by street preacher Brian David Mitchell, who came in through an open kitchen window. The kidnapping 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.
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Mitchell is serving a life sentence after being convicted of kidnapping and raping Smart. He and Barzee were married at one point.
Barzee was convicted of both state and federal crimes, and transferred to the Utah state prison in April 2016 after finishing a federal sentence in Texas. Barzee will be under federal supervision for five years after her release from prison.
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.
© 2018 The Canadian Press