was an LDS church member in Utah; with Brian David Mitchell, held Elizabeth Smart captive

Case Summary

Wanda Barzee was a Mormon church member and wife and accomplice of Brian David Mitchell.

Together with Mitchell, she held an underage girl captive for nine months.

On November 16, 2009, Barzee pled guilty to assisting in the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart as part of a plea bargain with prosecutors.

On May 19, 2010, federal Judge Dale A. Kimball sentenced Barzee to 15 years in federal prison. As part of a plea deal between the defense and federal prosecutors, he gave Barzee credit for seven years that she had already served.

  1. Elizabeth Smart kidnapper pleads guilty to trying to abduct cousin
    view source details | 8 Feb 2010 | CNN
  2. Wanda Barzee recounts her ‘miraculous’ years with Brian David Mitchell
    view source details | 19 Nov 2010 | Deseret News
Sources excerpts
  • Elizabeth Smart kidnapper pleads guilty to trying to abduct cousin
    Source type: News article
    Publisher: CNN
    Date published/accessed: 8 Feb 2010
    archive 1 | archive 2

    A woman convicted in the 2002 kidnapping of Utah teenager Elizabeth Smart pleaded guilty in the attempted kidnapping of Smart's cousin a month later, court officials said Monday.

    In exchange for Wanda Barzee's plea of guilty but mentally ill to one count of conspiracy to commit aggravated kidnapping, prosecutors dropped state charges against her in Smart's abduction, said Nancy Volmer, spokeswoman for Utah state courts.

    Barzee, 64, pleaded guilty in November to federal charges of kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor in connection with Smart's abduction. As part of that plea agreement, she agreed to cooperate with the state and federal cases against her husband, Brian David Mitchell, federal prosecutors have said.

    Barzee and Mitchell were accused of abducting Smart, then 14, at knifepoint from her bedroom in her family's Salt Lake City home in June 2002. Smart was found nine months later, walking down a street in the Salt Lake City suburb of Sandy, Utah, in the company of Barzee and Mitchell, a drifter and self-described prophet who calls himself Emmanuel and had done some handyman work at the Smarts' home.

    The month after Smart was kidnapped, prosecutors alleged, Barzee and Mitchell attempted to break into the home of her cousin, but were unsuccessful. The girl was 15 years old at the time, according to CNN affiliate KSL. She is not named in court documents.

    "Mr. Mitchell's attempt was thwarted when the minor child awakened, which caused Mr. Mitchell to flee," the court documents said.

    Following her arrest in 2003, Barzee told authorities that she and Mitchell went to the home in order to abduct the girl, and planned to hold her, along with Smart, in the couple's camp in the mountains, according to court documents.

    Sentencing is set for May 21 on the state charge, Volmer said. Barzee faces between one and 15 years in prison, but prosecutors have agreed to allow that sentence to run concurrently with her federal sentence, according to court documents.

    Federal prosecutors have recommended a sentence of 15 years in prison for her in exchange for her cooperation against Mitchell. Federal sentencing was set for May 19, but a spokeswoman for federal prosecutors has said a sentence would not be imposed until Barzee's cooperation against Mitchell is complete.

    At the hearing in federal court, Barzee apologized to Smart, according to a transcript.

    "I'm greatly humbled as I realize how much Elizabeth Smart has been victimized and the role I played in it," she said. "I'm so sorry, Elizabeth, for all the pain and suffering I have caused you and your family. It is my hope that you will be able to find it in your heart to forgive me one day."

    Barzee had been housed at the Utah State Hospital while courts determined her competency as well as Mitchell's. After years of being declared incompetent, she recently was declared competent to stand trial, according to the Salt Lake Tribune newspaper. A state court had ruled she could be forcibly medicated, and that ruling led federal prosecutors to proceed with bringing a case against the couple, the Tribune said.

    At a competency hearing for Mitchell in October, Smart, now 21, testified that she had been held captive in Utah and California. Just after her abduction, Mitchell took her to a wooded area behind her home and performed a mock marriage ceremony with her, she said. During the nine months of her captivity, Smart testified, no 24-hour period passed without her being raped by Mitchell.

    U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball has not yet ruled on Mitchell's competency. State court proceedings are on hold pending the outcome of the federal case.

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    Wanda Barzee recounts her ‘miraculous’ years with Brian David Mitchell
    Source type: News article
    Publisher: Deseret News
    Date published/accessed: 19 Nov 2010
    archive 1 | archive 2

    SALT LAKE CITY — Sounding like a sometimes rambling grandmother looking back at a painful past, Wanda Barzee took the witness stand Thursday telling an often bizarre story of how she came to know, care about and ultimately submit to the man accused of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart.

    Wearing glasses and short, gray hair, Barzee softly answered questions about how she met and married Brian David Mitchell. She talked about their on-and-off association with the LDS Church, and traveling around the country to Mormon historical sites and big cities, at times hitchhiking with just backpacks or pulling a handcart across places such as the Golden Gate Bridge.

    She related several occasions where Mitchell gave her blessings about glorifying God with her talent for playing the organ or received revelations about what they should do and where they should go. She used the word "miraculous" several times to describe the outcome of Mitchell's pronouncements.

    Mitchell's defense attorneys said Barzee, called as a defense witness, was scared to testify. But she sounded calm during 90 minutes on the witness stand — the first time she's testified in the case — though her answers sometimes strayed from the questions.

    She became emotional only once, while talking about losing custody of the children from her first marriage. She is expected to conclude her testimony Friday.

    Barzee, 64, was flown in to testify from Texas where she is serving a 15-year term in federal prison. She pleaded guilty last year to charges related to Smart's kidnapping. The plea came after a state judge ordered her to undergo forced mental health treatment at the Utah State Hospital to restore her competency to stand trial. She testified Thursday in handcuffs and shackles, and wearing a gray- and-white-striped prison suit.

    Also testifying Thursday were Mitchell's younger brother, Tim Mitchell; Pastor Kristian Erickson, who helped Barzee and Mitchell; and an Idaho couple who let them live on their land.

    Mitchell was singing "O, come, O come, Emmanuel" when Elizabeth Smart and her parents, Ed and Lois Smart, sat down in the courtroom. They left for a short time, but returned before the proceedings began. Mitchell stopped singing for a brief time while his attorney, Robert Steele, put a hand on his shoulder and whispered to him. Mitchell appeared to talk back to him before singing again and being removed as he has been for every day of the trial.

    Erickson testified that he wondered about Mitchell's mental stability and whether he was delusional because he introduced himself as Immanuel during their brief encounter several years ago. And Tim Mitchell also testified that he worried his brother became "increasingly emotionally disturbed" based on his interactions with him over the years.

    Barzee and Mitchell first met in a mental health counseling group in 1985 when she was getting treatment for depression. As she opened up about her abusive marriage, she said, Mitchell wanted to hold her hand to comfort her.

    "And we held hands from then on," she said.

    In the weeks afterward, Barzee and Mitchell talked for hours on the telephone. She said she poured out her heart about her 20-year marriage to an abusive husband and losing her six children.

    "I was terrified of being alone," she said. "I didn't want to tell my problems to anyone. He was so supportive of me. He became my best friend."

    Barzee said she also understood Mitchell had become active in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was ordained an elder and had attended the temple. "So I thought he was a righteous man."

    Both of them were going through divorces at the time. And though they were still married to other people, Barzee said, their stake president and bishop approved of their relationship because they knew the couple needed each other. She said she cooked meals for Mitchell at her house and they attended church together.

    The couple married on Nov. 29, 1985, the day Mitchell's divorce became final.

    Of that first year of marriage, Barzee said, "It was hellish."

    She said they argued a lot but couldn't recall what they argued about. "He would be possessive with me and controlling." She said Mitchell told her it was good they didn't have children because the marriage wouldn't last. She received a blessing from her bishop in which she said she was told Satan was doing everything in his power to separate them but the Lord would help them work out their problems.

    Barzee said it was painful and difficult but they made it through that first year.

    "Brian would tell me he was consumed with fear and doubt but he wouldn't talk to me about what he was fearful of. He would get angry and we would get in an argument and he would leave the house before he got so bad he would hurt somebody or destroy something."

    Barzee testified that Mitchell criticized her for the TV shows she watched. He would punish her by getting angry and leaving the room. "He'd have nothing to do with me until I gave him what he wanted." Mitchell, she said, sold the TV and allowed her only to watch videos he picked out.

    Over the next three years, Barzee said, the couple's relationship improved. They were sealed in an LDS temple on Jan. 23, 1988. She said her mental health counselor told her she needed to be the one in control and not feed the fire, and help Mitchell confront his fear and doubts.

    "I never knew what he was fearful of. There were times he would scream into the pillow. He would just scream, muffling the sounds in the pillow, trying to make himself cry," she said. "He never did."

    Barzee said during that time, her defensive walls came down and she was less argumentative. She said she thought their marriage was improving. Mitchell was ordained a high priest, served on the stake high council and was a counselor in a bishopric.

    "And I didn't think about it until a few days ago, but when he was released as a counselor and the bishop was released, I think he was aspiring for a higher position. He thought he should be the one to be bishop," Barzee testified.

    That theme would emerge again when the couple moved to a small commune of LDS Church members in Idaho.

    Mitchell worked as a die cutter at O.C. Tanner, while Barzee stayed home, mostly practicing the organ six to eight hours a day. She also studied with a BYU professor who was preparing her for a recital at the Assembly Hall on Temple Square. About that time, she said, Mitchell gave her another priesthood blessing.

    "He told me that I had played celestial pipe organs in the pre-existence and I was associated with gods and that my calling was to glorify God and play music to strengthen and inspire his soul. I wasn't to play for the world. I was going to be called to play for people who were living the celestial law."

    Mitchell also quit his job at O.C. Tanner around that time because he didn't like the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed candlesticks they were producing and selling for $3,000. "He thought he was making idols," Barzee said.

    Barzee at one point said she wanted a new wedding ring and found one at a jewelry store. Mitchell, she said, drew a picture of it and placed it in a drawer for four years. She said she became impatient with him because it wasn't finished. She said she read in the scriptures about being humble and meek. "I knelt down and prayed and the Lord wanted me to be submissive to my husband."

    Barzee said she developed muscle spasms in her back and shoulders, but they couldn't afford a chiropractor. Her mother told her about C. Samuel West in Orem who practiced a healing art called lymphology, which she described as being similar to massage. After it healed her, Mitchell became interested in it and began studying with West. He told her it was the Lord's will that he make a living teaching lymphology in Salt Lake City.

    "So we couldn't make the house payment and sold everything we owned and miraculously a fifth wheel trailer was provided," Barzee said.

    The couple moved to Heber City and stopped attending the LDS Church. "That's when Brian decided not to go to the meetings anymore, and I followed him."

    Then Mitchell, she testified, had the impression they should move north.

    They eventually pulled the fifth wheel to a commune of LDS Church members called Pleasant Valley near Kooskia, Idaho, in the fall of 1994. Their time on the commune, which lived by its own "white bible," was short-lived because Mitchell disagreed with some of their beliefs, particularly praying to God the Father without going through Jesus Christ.

    "Brian got up and told them their teachings were false," Barzee said. The owners of land wanted them off the property and an LDS couple in Kooskia, Tom and Betty McKnight, invited them to park their trailer on their land in March 1995. Mitchell and Barzee also started attending church again and she often played the organ for services.

    Tom McKnight testified that he was the couple's home teacher and that he had many doctrinal discussions with Mitchell. He testified that Mitchell did most of the talking and was zealous in his opinions.

    "He tended to browbeat a little bit, so I just learned to listen," he said.

    McKnight said Mitchell asked him to read a 30-page pamphlet he had written in scriptural prose. McKnight called it a "hodgepodge" that didn't make sense to him. "It seemed to me he was justifying his own place on a pedestal," he said.

    McKnight said the same notion caused Mitchell to leave the commune, describing his conflict there as "two dogs, one bone."

    "The feeling I got was he couldn't achieve his spot on the pedestal," he said.

    Mitchell and Barzee lived on the McKnights' property for about six months. McKnight said they left shortly after he chastised Mitchell for expressing a grudge against the leadership of the LDS Church.

    "I looked him in the face and said, 'Brian, you've got to change your ways or you're going to hell.' "

    Barzee testified that Mitchell received a revelation during a walk in the woods a short time later. "There wasn't any way to pay for our trailer and he came back and said that it was the Lord's will that we sell everything we owned and buy backpacks and tents and sleeping bags and go hitchhiking across the nation."

    Barzee said she received another priesthood blessing from Mitchell in which "I was given specific instruction on how we were to travel hitchhiking across the nation to see the sights and hear the history of the church, first to stop at Adam-ondi-Ahman and go on from there."

    Asked by defense attorney Robert Steele about Adam-ondi-Ahman, Barzee at first said she didn't remember where or what it was. Then she said, "I think the Saints are supposed to gather there in the last days."

    The couple traveled to Mormon historical sites including Carthage Jail, Liberty Jail, Nauvoo, the Sacred Grove, Barzee said. They also visited Boston, Philadelphia and New York City, "each getting progressively larger and more wicked," she said.

    Mitchell gave her another blessing to seek out a humble church in each of those cities for an organ recital, she said. Barzee testified that "miraculously" she was able to do the recitals in each city, but few, if any, "physical bodies" attended.

    "There wasn't anybody there in New York City. The spirits we felt were here. Brian even felt to stand up and welcome the spirits there."

Mormon Sexual Abuse Map

International map of locations where active members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints perpetrated or allegedly perpetrated sexual abuse or other sex crimes, or where LDS leaders failed or allegedly failed to help abuse survivors.