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Woman expected to plead guilty in Smart case

Court papers say the woman charged in the 2002 abduction of Elizabeth Smart has reached an agreement with prosecutors and is expected to plead guilty in federal court on Tuesday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The wrenching saga of Elizabeth Smart's abduction and improbable recovery is showing the first signs of resolution seven years after it began.

On Tuesday, Wanda Eileen Barzee — one of two people charged in the case — will plead guilty to charges of kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City, attorney Scott Williams told The Associated Press.

Barzee's alleged role in the abduction has garnered less attention than that of her estranged husband, Brian David Mitchell, but her expected plea to the federal charges marks a major step forward in the separate cases that stalled when both defendants were ruled incompetent for trial.

Smart's abduction at knifepoint from the bedroom of her Salt Lake City home in 2002 riveted the nation as hundreds of people helped search for the blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl who loved to play the harp.

Her recovery in March 2003, when she was spotted walking suburban streets with Barzee and Mitchell, was an improbable defiance of the odds.

Indicted in March 2008
First charged in state court with multiple felonies, Mitchell and Barzee were both indicted by a federal grand jury in March 2008.

Williams would not comment on why the 63-year-old Barzee was entering the plea. She could face a life sentence for the kidnapping charge and up to 15 years on the second charge.

Ed Smart, Elizabeth's father, said he was asked by prosecutors not to comment on any possible plea.

"What I will say is that we stand behind Brett Tolman, the U.S. attorney, and we are pleased we're moving forward," Smart said.

Melodie Rydalch, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office, said she could not comment beyond what was contained in the court papers filed Monday.

A decorum order for an expected arraignment issued by U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball said Barzee "will be arraigned and is anticipated to enter into a guilty plea pursuant to an agreement with the United States."

State court cases charging Mitchell and Barzee with felony charges of aggravated kidnapping and sexual assault stalled over competency issues. Last year, Barzee was ordered to undergo forced medication treatments.

Last month, a state hospital report said she was now competent to stand trial.

"No issues of competency will be raised in the federal court matter," Williams said.

Competency hearing
Barzee's appearance in federal Tuesday will be her first. Her state case is pending.

Mitchell, 55, a one-time itinerant street preacher, is scheduled for a 10-day competency hearing in federal court beginning Nov. 30.

His attorneys asked Judge Kimball to postpone that hearing after learning that Barzee has been interviewed by a forensic psychiatrist hired as an expert witness by federal prosecutors. Court papers show Barzee's attorneys allowed the interview with Dr. Michael Welner.

It's unclear whether prosecutors will question Welner about the Barzee interview or call Barzee herself as a witness during Mitchell's competency hearing.

Mitchell is accused of taking Smart as a polygamous wife in order to fulfill a religious prophecy included in a 27-page manifesto he wrote called "The Book of Immanuel David Isaiah."

As part of the competency hearing, Smart said last month that Barzee had washed her feet and dressed her in robes for the wedding ceremony in a mountain camp shortly after the abduction.

Smart said she was raped daily by Mitchell throughout her nine months of captivity and threatened if she attempted to escape.

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