Elizabeth Smart Kidnapper Barzee Found Incompetent

New York Times/January 9, 2004

Salt Lake City -- One of Utah teenager Elizabeth Smart's kidnappers who held her captive for nine months under terrible conditions on Friday was ruled mentally incompetent to stand trial.

District Court Judge Judith Atherton ordered Wanda Barzee, 58, to a state mental institution for further evaluation and said in court that two physicians had examined the woman.

"They both find she is severely compromised or impaired," the judge said as Barzee sat quietly. "Therefore she is not competent to proceed in this case." She said one of the doctors found Barzee to be a paranoid schizophrenic.

Barzee and her husband Brian David Mitchell are charged with kidnapping and sexually assaulting when Mitchell grabbed the girl from her upscale home in 2002 when she was 14. They held her captive for nine months.

"(Barzee's) psychotic mental disorders make it so she cannot reasonably choose legal strategies," her attorney David Finlayson told reporters outside the courthouse.

Mitchell's competency hearing has been scheduled for Jan. 27 and 28.

But Salt Lake County District Attorney David Yocom said he was not surprised by the judge's decision and said he still expects the duo to stand trial at some point in the future.

"We think that once she has been medicated at the state hospital and receives treatment within a reasonable time then we'll be able to move this case along," Yocom said.

Barzee will be evaluated in 90 days and if still found incompetent would be evaluated six months later.

But Barzee may not be put on trial, a local attorney said. "I'm not as optimistic that her competency will be reinstated anytime soon," said Erik Luna, professor at the University of Utah College of Law.

The prosecutor also said he wants to try Barzee and Mitchell at the same time. "The victim here has an interest in only testifying once," Yocom said.

On Thursday, Barzee waived her right to a competency hearing and has said she does not believe she is mentally ill in the "eyes of the Lord."

Mitchell, Barzee and Elizabeth spent about four months camping not far from Salt Lake City. In the beginning Elizabeth was tethered by a cable to prevent her from escaping.

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