Wanda Barzee became a disturbing figure for members of her own family after she helped in the 2002 kidnapping of US teenager Elizabeth Smart.
Days before the 72-year-old woman is released from prison, looming fears about whether she remains a threat and calls to keep her off the streets bring up deep-rooted questions about mental-health treatment in the nation’s prisons, an expert said.
And details of the crime still horrify Barzee’s niece, Tina Mace.
“It just makes you ill. How could anyone do that?” she said.
Her aunt played the organ at her wedding decades ago, before Barzee joined Brian David Mitchell as he acted on his so-called revelations from God.
Like Smart, Mace is alarmed by the surprise announcement this week by Utah authorities, who said they had miscalculated her aunt’s sentence and would release her from prison on Wednesday.
Barzee has served the 15-year sentence she got in a plea deal the year she testified against street preacher Mitchell, her then-husband who kidnapped the 14-year-old girl from her bedroom 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 a Salt Lake City suburb.
During her months in captivity, Smart said the older woman sat nearby and encouraged her husband as he raped the teenager.
Mitchell is serving a life sentence.
Smart said on Thursday that she believes the older woman who treated her as a “handmaiden” and a “slave” was manipulated by her husband at times. “But she, in her own right, abused me as much as he did.”