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Woman in Smart case expects life in prison

In letters written to her mother, the woman charged in the 2002 kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart has sought forgiveness and says she expects to spend the rest of her life in prison.
/ Source: The Associated Press

In letters written to her mother, the woman charged in the 2002 kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart has sought forgiveness for any pain she has caused and says she expects to spend the rest of her life in prison.

Wanda Eileen Barzee, 63, however, makes just one reference to Smart in the 12 letters obtained by The Associated Press. And she doesn't provide details about the nine months the girl allegedly spent with her and her now-estranged husband Brian David Mitchell.

The couple is charged with multiple felonies in state court and last year was indicted by a federal grand jury.

"In one of these letters, Wanda is remembering the sins that she did," said Barzee's mother, 88-year-old Dora Corbett, who provided letters sent between July 2008 and August 2009 to The AP. "She doesn't talk about it, she just remembers them and says she needs to repent of them."

Wants to be re-baptized
But Barzee writes of repentance only when discussing her desire to be re-baptized in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In a June 21 letter, she recounts talking to a local church leader about the steps necessary to regain her membership, which includes making a full confession.

"He knows that Elizabeth Smart and I were victims of Brian," wrote Barzee, who was excommunicated by the church in 2002.

Smart's father, Ed Smart, said Barzee may be making progress, but she's not a victim.

"They're trying to build a case of sympathy on Wanda and I just don't have any sympathy for it," he said. "I think she has manipulated ... maybe not just as much (as Mitchell), but I believe that she is very, very culpable."

Barzee has twice been found incompetent for trial and is undergoing forced treatment with anti-psychotic medications. Doctors have said Barzee was delusional and believed she was hearing messages from God through the television. She's scheduled to appear in state court for a competency review on Oct. 23.

Barzee writes of the hearing, and says she imagines her social worker "has found me competent, but won't know for sure until I have been given another evaluation."

"Needless to say how nervous I am," she writes in an Aug. 11 letter. Her missives are written in small, disciplined cursive on lined yellow note paper and most are signed "Love forever, Wanda," followed by a chain of five tiny hand-drawn hearts.

Depending on the report from doctors, Barzee's case could proceed toward trial, she could be ordered to more treatment, or prosecutors could seek to have her civilly committed.

Smart allegedly taken at knifepoint
Scott Williams, Barzee's attorney, said he could not comment on the letters but said it was Corbett's right to share communications between her and her daughter.

Privacy laws prevent state officials from commenting about any patient at the hospital, Utah Department of Human Services spokeswoman Elizabeth Solis said.

Barzee was arrested March 12, 2003, walking the streets of a Salt Lake City suburb with Mitchell and Smart. That was nine months after Mitchell allegedly cut through a window screen at the Smarts' Salt Lake City home and whisked away the then-14-year-old Smart at knifepoint.

A one-time itinerant street preacher, Mitchell is said to have wanted Smart as a polygamous wife and may have taken her to fulfill a religious prophecy he laid out in a 27-page manifesto drafted in April 2002. Mitchell, 55, has also been found incompetent to stand trial. His state case is stalled, but a federal case against him continues.

"For the seriousness of my charges, and the number of five first-degree felonies, besides being federally charged, I am expecting to receive a life sentence in prison," Barzee wrote in an Aug. 11 letter to her mother.

"Unless I can obtain the plea of not guilty by reason of insanity which will enable me to stay here" at the Utah State Hospital, Barzee wrote.

Had refused medication
Doctors at the state hospital, where Barzee has spent most of the last six years, began administering anti-psychotic drugs after an appeal of a 2006 forced medication order was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court in May 2008.

Barzee had long refused medication for religious reasons. She maintains those objections in a July 29, 2008 letter, saying the medication she is forced to take "has not changed anything of my thought processes" and that it is her "constitutional right to worship the Lord God in how I choose to worship."

Corbett, however, believes the medication has put Barzee on a road to recovery and said the evidence is in the tone of Barzee's letters.

In the earliest years of incarceration, Barzee would reject letters and cards from Corbett, returning them after scrawling "no such person" on the envelopes. When Barzee did respond, many of her letters were signed, "Hephzibah Eladah Isaiah," the name Mitchell had given Barzee, Corbett said.

"Sometimes, she wouldn't even address me as mother," Corbett said.

But by April 14, 2009, Barzee writes that she was working with a social worker toward becoming competent, and she apologizes for any suffering she has caused her family and denounces the religious authority she once believed Mitchell held over her.

"For all the priesthood blessings given to me by Brian's hand where I have felt edified and at peace ... it is extremely difficult to imagine or comprehend how I was deceived and lied to," she wrote. "I am so sorry, Mother ... Can you forgive me?"