The wife of the man who helped kidnap Elizabeth Smart from her bedroom 16 years ago will be released from custody on Sept. 19 after more than a decade behind bars, PEOPLE confirms.
Utah parole officials tell PEOPLE the move — which reverses a July denial of Wanda Barzee’s parole — came after “further review and advice from legal counsel” that showed they must credit Barzee’s time in federal prison toward her current term in state custody, on top of time she had already served in jail and a state hospital.
In a statement, Smart reportedly described Barzee’s release as “incomprehensible” and said she was “trying to understand how and why this is happening.”
Soon after her arrest in 2003, Barzee told investigators that she aided her husband, Brian David Mitchell, in kidnapping Smart from Smart’s home in Salt Lake City in June 2002.
Smart, then 14 years old, was held against her will and regularly abused for nine months.
Next week, Barzee will walk out of the Utah state prison where she has spent the last two years. It has been nearly nine years since she pleaded guilty to kidnapping for her role in Smart’s abduction.
In 2010, Barzee also pleaded guilty but mentally ill to a state charge of conspiracy to commit attempted kidnapping stemming from an unsuccessful plot to take Smart’s cousin.
Barzee started serving a one- to 15-year sentence for that crime in April 2016, following completion of her term in the federal kidnapping case.
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Prior to last week’s decision, her sentence would have continued through January 2024 and officials said she would likely not have been released until 2023, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.
In her statement, according to local TV station KSL, Smart said she was both “surprised and disappointed” by Barzee’s release.
“It is incomprehensible how someone who has not cooperated with her mental health evaluations or risk assessments and someone who did not show up to her own parole hearing can be released into our community,” Smart said. “I am trying to understand how and why this is happening and exploring possible options.”
She continued: “I appreciate the support, love and concern that has already been expressed and will work diligently to address this issue of Barzee’s release as well as to ensure changes are made moving forward to ensure this doesn’t happen to anyone else in the future.”
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In the years since she was freed from captivity as a teenager, Smart, now 30, has turned her tragedy into triumph — becoming an author, TV correspondent, motivational speaker, philanthropist and victims’ rights advocate.
She is expecting her third child with her husband, Matthew Gilmour.