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Should Barzee be medicated?

Hearing to decide if it should be forced on kidnap defendant

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One of the suspects in the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping case will be at the center of a unique hearing today.

A "Sell" hearing will be held before 3rd District Judge Judith Atherton to decide if Wanda Barzee should be forcibly medicated in an attempt to restore her competency for trial. It is believed to be the first such hearing in Utah.

Barzee, 59, and her husband, co-defendant Brian David Mitchell, 51, face charges of aggravated kidnapping, two counts of aggravated sexual assault, two counts of aggravated burglary and conspiracy to commit aggravated kidnapping.

She was ruled incompetent to stand trial in January 2004 and found to still be incompetent during both her first review hearing in August 2004 and her second hearing in September of 2005.

Doctors at the Utah State Hospital say they have tried all other methods to restore Barzee's competency except medication, which she refuses to take.

Dr. Eric Dale Nielsen, a clinical social worker with the state hospital, who has twice examined Barzee, said during her last hearing that he felt she suffered from a thought disorder similar to schizophrenia, a psychotic disorder that can be treated with medicine.

But the question for Atherton will be whether Barzee fits the criteria for forcible medication.

The hearing's namesake comes from the 2003 case Charles Sell vs. United States in which the U.S. Supreme Court allowed for involuntary medication if four criteria were met: There is important government interest at stake; the involuntary medication will significantly further those important governmental interests; it is necessary to further the state's interest; and it is medically appropriate.

Sell was a dentist with a long history of mental illness. He was charged in the late 1990s with attempted murder, fraud and money laundering.

But while Sell was determined to be a danger to himself and others, Barzee is not, previous testimonies indicated. Additionally, she is considered competent enough to meet her own daily needs.

Mitchell is also at the Utah State Hospital after he was found in December to still be incompetent to stand trial, although Atherton also found "substantial likelihood" he would regain competency in the future.

A review hearing for Mitchell isn't scheduled until December.

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com