Once an accomplished organ player in Salt Lake City, Wanda Barzee became a disturbing figure for members of her own family after she helped in the 2002 kidnapping of then-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 tells the AP. And details of the crime still horrify Barzee's niece, Tina Mace. "It just makes you ill. How could anyone do that?" she says. Like Smart, Mace is alarmed by the surprise announcement this week by Utah authorities, who say they miscalculated her aunt's sentence and will release her from prison on Wednesday. "From what I know, no family can take her in or would take her in," Mace says.
Federal agents have secured a place for Barzee to live when she starts her five-year supervised release, says Eric Anderson, Deputy Chief US Probation Officer for Utah. He declined to say whether she'll be in a private home or a facility, but she "will not be homeless." Barzee has served the 15-year sentence she got in a plea deal the year she testified against street preacher Brian David Mitchell, her then-husband who kidnapped the girl from her bedroom at knife-point. During her months in captivity, Smart says the older woman sat nearby and encouraged her husband as he raped the teenager. Smart is now a 30-year-old speaker and activist who said Thursday she's deeply concerned that Barzee remains a threat, citing her refusal to cooperate with mental-health treatment in prison and reports that she may still harbor Mitchell's beliefs.
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