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Judge rules Barzee incompetent

She will be sent to state hospital to undergo treatment

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Wanda Barzee, the woman accused of kidnapping and assaulting Elizabeth Smart along with co-defendant Brian David Mitchell, was ruled incompetent to stand trial Friday by 3rd District Judge Judith Atherton.

Barzee, 58, was ordered to be committed to the Utah State Hospital for treatment. There were questions, however, about exactly when Barzee would be admitted to the hospital and what kind of treatment she would receive.

As of Friday, the state hospital was full. All 74 beds were occupied, and there were already 10 people on a waiting list to get in, said Department of Human Services spokeswoman Carol Sisco. She said Friday it usually takes about five or six weeks for space to become available.

Utah State Hospital Mental Health Director Randy Bachman said the lack of beds was due to recent budget cuts that forced the hospital to reduce its number of beds by 26.

As to whether Barzee would get any type of priority because of the high-profile nature of her case, the hospital said no.

"All of these people have serious issues," Sisco said of those on the waiting list. "We will proceed in the order we receive the requests."

Until then, Barzee will remain at the Salt Lake County Jail.

Initially, Barzee challenged the findings of the two evaluators who found her mentally incompetent to stand trial. She wanted to have a competency hearing that was closed to the public.

But once several media organizations, including the Deseret Morning News, challenged the decision to close the hearing, Barzee opted instead to waive the hearing. Atherton was left to base her decision of competency on the evaluations of the two doctors.

Defense attorney Scott Williams read a statement from Barzee in court Friday that was included in her motion to waive her competency hearing. In that statement, she said she did not accept the findings of the evaluators and "do not believe myself to be mentally ill or infirm or incompetent in the eyes of the Lord."

Atherton said she used several criteria to determine whether Barzee was competent. Both doctors found her mentally ill, although each reached different conclusions on the type of illness she had.

One doctor concluded Barzee suffered from "shared psychotic disorder" or "shared delusional disorder." The other diagnosed her with paranoid schizophrenia. Based on those reports, Atherton said she believed Barzee was able to understand the charges against her and the possible penalties and to consult with her attorneys.

However, Atherton said that Barzee lacked the ability to make competent legal choices to assist in her defense and to testify in a rational manner.

Another court date was set for April 15 for an update on Barzee's progress. At that time it will be determined whether she is ready to proceed with the criminal case or needs more treatment.

Salt Lake District Attorney David Yocom said prosecutors had suspected for a month that Barzee would be committed. He was confident Friday that Barzee's competency would be restored and there would be a trial at some point. Friday's decision did not affect how prosecutors were handling Mitchell's case, he said.

Barzee currently does not take any medications. When asked whether she would be forced to take medication as part of her treatment, her attorneys said it raised an interesting legal question.

"Our legal opinion is they cannot force-medicate her," Williams said.

Because of Barzee's philosophical beliefs, Williams said she does not desire to take any type of medications. And he said he would be surprised if it's determined that medicating Barzee would be the answer to restoring her competency.

Sisco said medication is not automatically forced on a patient if doctors determine the patient needs it. Two independent doctors would first evaluate her, Sisco said. Then a forced-medication hearing would be held before a judge.

Mitchell and Barzee are accused of kidnapping Smart in June 2002 and holding her captive for nine months before the three were found in Sandy on March 12, 2003. Each defendant is charged with kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault, aggravated burglary and attempted aggravated kidnapping.

A competency hearing for Mitchell was scheduled for Jan. 27. One evaluator has found Mitchell competent to stand trial while the other has not.

Finding Barzee incompetent to stand trial could force the prosecution to try Barzee and Mitchell separately, Yocom said. He hoped Friday that the state would still be able to put both defendants on trial at the same time to spare Smart from having to testify twice.

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com