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Wanda Barzee wraps up plea deal in Elizabeth Smart case

SALT LAKE CITY — Calling it a "global resolution" to both federal and state cases, attorneys in the state case against accused Elizabeth Smart kidnapper Wanda Barzee agreed to a plea deal Monday.

Barzee pleaded "guilty but mentally ill" to one count of conspiracy to commit aggravated kidnapping, a second-degree felony. The charge, however, is not connected to Elizabeth Smart's kidnapping, but rather the attempted kidnapping of her cousin on July 24, 2002, about seven weeks after Smart was kidnapped.

On that night, Brian David Mitchell, Barzee's estranged husband and co-defendant, cut through a window screen at the home of Smart's teenage cousin and went into her room "to bring her to their camp in the mountains to be held against her will," according to charging documents. The young girl and her family were awakened by Mitchell's movements, however, and he fled.

When Barzee is sentenced in May, prosecutors say they will recommend she serve the federal and state sentences concurrently with credit for time served. That may mean an additional nine years in prison for Barzee.

Both Salt Lake County deputy district attorney Alicia Cook and defense attorney Scott Williams Monday referred to Barzee's plea as part of the overall resolution. Even though Barzee did not plead guilty in state court to any charge associated with Smart's abduction, they say she is not denying culpability for her actions.

"It's a global resolution. It shouldn't be considered separate from her federal case," Williams said.

"She did admit her guilt in the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart," Cook said.

In November, Barzee pleaded guilty in federal court to kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor in relation to Smart's abduction. Her plea deal is contingent on her continued cooperation in the criminal proceedings against Mitchell.

U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball is considering whether Mitchell is competent to stand trial in federal court. If he is found competent and the case progresses to a trial, Cook said the government anticipates using Barzee as one of its witnesses.

Ed Smart, Elizabeth Smart's father, said he was satisfied with the deal in state court. "Basically what they're trying to do is cover all the charges that have been brought," he said. But he called Monday's hearing just another step in the process and not an ultimate victory. The bigger issue, he said, is what happens with Mitchell's case and how much Barzee cooperates.

"If she does not cooperate and testify against Mitchell … that's a big question mark in my mind," Ed Smart said. "These pleas are based on her cooperation on convicting Mitchell."

Part of Ed Smart's concern comes from listening to Barzee's videotaped interview with the government's key expert witness, Dr. Michael Welner, which was played during Mitchell's federal competency hearing. Based on what Elizabeth Smart has said and what he heard Barzee say in court, "she wasn't being completely truthful," he said.

"It seems like she was trying to diminish (Mitchell's) role," Ed Smart said.

He admitted he was "anxious" to see the outcome of Mitchell's case and whether Mitchell would agree to a plea deal if he's found competent to stand trial.

Ed Smart said his daughter was still waiting, despite numerous requests, to receive an apology letter that Barzee reportedly wrote.

"She wants to see that Wanda actually wrote it and that it's not a put-on. Elizabeth certainly feels strongly that she and Mitchell felt they were above the law and would do whatever they needed to justify their means," he said. "That's not to say Elizabeth can't forgive her, or we can't forgive her. In the end, there's going to be a final judgment (Barzee) will have to answer to. It's not something you want to waste your whole life on. You forgive her and hope she's truly sorry about what she's done."

As part of Barzee's plea on Monday, she agreed to plead guilty and mentally ill, meaning she was mentally ill at the time of her alleged crime. Attorneys also stipulated Monday that Barzee was still mentally ill but competent to stand trial.

Cook noted being mentally ill is exclusive from being incompetent.

Williams said Barzee continues to take several types of medication and would continue to receive treatment from the Utah State Hospital. A new evaluation was requested from 3rd District Judge Judith Atherton as part of Barzee's pre-sentence report.

Barzee, wearing a long-sleeved shirt and long skirt, stood next to Williams as she answered "yes" and "no" to Atherton's questions before signing her plea deal.

Barzee is scheduled to be sentenced May 21 for her state charge. She could receive up to 15 years in prison. She will be sentenced in federal court on May 19. Federal prosecutors have recommended Barzee be sentenced to 15 years in prison with credit given for time served since her arrest in 2003, meaning she could be released in nine years when she is 73.

Cook said if all goes as anticipated, the state would recommend her state court sentence run concurrently with the federal sentence.

Sitting in the courtroom Monday to watch as her daughter pleaded guilty was Barzee's mother, 88-year-old Dora Corbett. She did not speak to the media after the hearing.

e-mail: preavy@desnews.com