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Smart kidnapper’s apology could reap forgiveness

Liz De La Torre

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From The Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY – An apology and a guilty plea to federal charges will likely bring the woman who kidnapped Elizabeth Smart the very thing she says she wants — forgiveness from Smart and her family.

“Absolutely,” Elizabeth’s father, Ed Smart said Tuesday after Wanda Eileen Barzee pleaded guilty to charges of kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor in U.S. District Court.

“We all make mistakes in life,” he said. “If we can’t forgive each other, heaven help us.”

In a public apology, Barzee, 64, said she was “humbled as I realize how much Elizabeth Smart has been victimized and the role that I played in it.”

“I am so sorry, Elizabeth, for all the pain and suffering I have caused you and your family,” Barzee said, taking an emotional pause between sentences. “It is my hope that you will be able to find it in your heart to forgive me.”

Smart, now 22 and preparing to serve a mission in Paris for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was not in court to hear the apology. But her father told a judge the family accepted the plea agreement made between Barzee and federal prosecutors despite actions that were “absolutely wrong and absolutely horrible.”

“I felt it sounded like (Barzee) wanted to take responsibility for what she’d done,” Ed Smart said fighting back tears after the hearing. “That was something that was very important to us.”

Smart was 14 when she was taken from the bedroom of her Salt Lake City home at knifepoint, sparking a search that riveted the nation. Nine months later, in March 2003, Barzee and her now-estranged husband Brian David Mitchell were arrested after they were spotted walking on a suburban street with Smart.

Elizabeth Smart has said that within hours of the abduction, Mitchell took her as a polygamous wife then raped her. Smart said Barzee washed the teen’s feet and dressed her in robes before the ceremony.

Barzee often became upset over Mitchell’s relationship with Smart, but that sentiment would never last, Smart said.

Barzee’s sentencing is scheduled for May 19.

She could have faced a life sentence for the kidnapping charge and up to 15 years for the other count.

Under the agreement, a judge is expected to sentence Barzee to 15 years in prison on both counts. With credit for the roughly six years she has been in custody, that means Barzee will likely be incarcerated for another nine years. She could be released when she is 73 years old.

Barzee will also plead guilty in state court under the plea deal to one count of conspiracy to commit aggravated kidnapping and will cooperate — and possibly testify — in state and federal cases against Mitchell.

Barzee’s plea came several weeks after a Utah State Hospital report said court-ordered treatments with anti-psychotic medications had restored her competency to stand trial.

Twice deemed incompetent in state court, Barzee had been diagnosed as delusional, called herself a “mother of Zion” and claimed to have been receiving messages from God through her television.

In court, the smiling Barzee looked more like a Mormon grandmother than the wild-eyed homeless woman in white robes who was known on the streets by the name “God Adorn Us” and panhandled near the headquarters of the Mormon church.

“Wanda is a person who is a different person than the person who was arrested,” her defense attorney, Scott Williams said. “In the state she was in, she didn’t know (the kidnapping) was wrong, it was a commandment of God. Now it’s horribly wrong.”

In a statement, U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman touted the plea deal as an appropriate resolution and said the sentence would be just and fair.

A 10-day competency hearing in Mitchell’s case is set to begin Nov. 30 in federal court. Mitchell, 56, and Barzee were indicted on federal charges in March 2008.

Williams said Barzee has not been subpoenaed to testify during that hearing.

Mitchell, a one-time itinerant street preacher, is accused of taking Smart as a wife in order to fulfill a religious prophecy included in a 27-page manifesto he wrote called “The Book of Immanuel David Isaiah.”

Smart said she was raped daily by Mitchell throughout her nine months of captivity. She said he threatened to harm her if she ever tried to escape.

Accepting any plea agreement in Mitchell’s case would be more difficult, said Ed Smart, who believes Mitchell is faking incompetence to avoid punishment.

“To me, he should never see the light of day out of prison,” Ed Smart said. “I believe mentally he is an extremist and that extremism is not going to change. If he were ever to get out, he would do it again.”

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Smart kidnapper’s apology could reap forgiveness