Family members of Wanda Barzee, the woman who helped kidnap and torture Elizabeth Smart more than 16 years ago, say they won’t be rolling out the welcome mat when the 72-year-old felon is released from prison next week.
“From what I know, no family can take her in or would take her in,” Barzee’s niece Tina Mace said.
Utah authorities announced last week that they had miscalculated Barzee’s sentence and that she would be released Wednesday.
The news stoked fears about whether Barzee remains a threat and underscored serious concerns about mental health treatment in America’s prison system.
Barzee has spent the past 15 years behind bars. She pleaded guilty to helping former street preacher Brian David Mitchell kidnap Smart in 2002. She was convicted on both state and federal crimes and was transferred to the Utah state prison in April 2016 after finishing a federal sentence in Texas.
Utah's Board of Pardons and Parole had denied Barzee early parole following a June 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.
During her months in captivity, Smart said Barzee sat nearby and encouraged Mitchell as he raped the teenager.
Smart, now a 30-year-old mother, speaker and activist, said she’s deeply concerned that Barzee remains a threat, citing her refusal to cooperate with mental health treatment in prison and reports that she may still harbor Mitchell's beliefs.
"Do I believe that she is dangerous?" Smart asked. "Yes, but not just to me. I believe that she is a danger and a threat to any vulnerable person in our community."
Federal agents have secured a place for Barzee to live when she starts her five-year supervised release, said Eric Anderson, Deputy Chief U.S. Probation Officer for Utah. He declined to say whether she'll be in a private home or a facility but said she "will not be homeless," he said.
Barzee's lawyer Scott Williams has maintained she's not a threat.
Barzee was treated at the Utah State Hospital for about five years following her arrest, and testified in 2010 against Mitchell.
On the stand, Barzee described a "hellish" first year of marriage that eased after she "learned to be submissive and obedient," and his later pronouncement that it was "God's will" they sell their possessions and travel the country wearing long robes.
Eventually, Mitchell kidnapped then-14-year-old Smart at knifepoint, forced her into a polygamous "marriage" and raped her almost daily.
She was found nine months later, while walking with Barzee and Mitchell on a street in the Salt Lake City suburb of Sandy.
Barzee's testimony against Mitchell seemed like a turning point, but her mental state appears to have changed in her subsequent years in federal and state prisons, Mace said.
“She needs help,” the niece told The Deseret News, adding that her family is not capable of taking care of Barzee’s mental needs.
Mace told the newspaper how “normal” her aunt seemed in the past. She added that Barzee was always a little vulnerable and that Mitchell was manipulative.
“I’m just glad she nailed Brian because he knew what he was doing,” Mace said.
Mitchell is serving a life sentence.
Looking back on the captivity, Smart said Thursday that she believes Barzee treated her as a "handmaiden" and was a "slave" manipulated by her husband at times. "But she, in her own right, abused me as much as he did."
Fox News' Samuel Chamberlain and The Associated Press contributed to this report.