Judge will consider finding to determine if Elizabeth Smart’s case can proceed.
Salt Lake City (AP) — A state court judge said Friday the Utah State Hospital has determined that the woman charged in the 2002 kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart is competent for trial.
The hospital’s finding — provided in a report three days ago to Judge Judith Atherton — was announced in Salt Lake City’s 3rd District Court.
It could mean the case of Wanda Eileen Barzee is headed toward trial, although Atherton first must rule Barzee competent.
Atherton set a Nov. 19 hearing to give Barzee’s attorneys time to have their own experts review the hospital’s findings.
Barzee has been receiving court-ordered psychiatric treatment since May 2008 after twice being deemed incompetent to stand trial.
Barzee, 63, and her estranged husband, Brian David Mitchell, 55, face charges of aggravated kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault and aggravated burglary for the June 2002 kidnapping of Smart in Salt Lake City.
Barzee appeared in court Friday — looking healthy, her gray hair cropped short — but did not speak.
But in an August letter written to her mother, Dora Corbett, Barzee said that based on her own conversation with a doctor and a social worker, she expected she would be deemed competent.
Atherton has scheduled a Nov. 19 to give Barzee’s lawyers time to evaluate the hospital’s written report, and decide whether to contest its conclusion.
Barzee, wearing a red shirt sweater and a black skirt, did not speak during the brief hearing. It was her first appearance in court since May 2008, when she began receiving forced medication ordered by Atherton.
Friday’s proceeding was to review her progress. If her defense attorneys challenge the hospital’s assessment, Atherton could order a full competency hearing or rule based on records in the case.
Outside court, defense attorney Scott Williams described Barzee as “a gentle, kind, loving person,” and said he wants the report reviewed by two experts. One evaluated Barzee in 2004, the other has worked with the defense, he said.
If there is a consensus that Barzee is competent, the defense will not challenge the finding, Williams said.
Barzee and her husband, Brian David Mitchell, are charged with kidnapping and sexual assault in state court, and with kidnapping and coercion of a minor in federal court.
Barzee’s state prosecution stalled in 2004 after Atherton ruled she was mentally incompetent and sent her to the state hospital, where she refused treatment. Atherton later ordered the forced medication of Barzee with psychotropic drugs, which was delayed by a battle that went to the Utah Supreme Court.
According to testimony at earlier court hearings, Barzee — who claimed she was the “mother of Zion” and received messages from God through her television — had made no progress toward competency before she was medicated.
Mitchell also refused treatment at the state hospital. Atherton found him mentally incompetent and ruled the likelihood that psychotropic medications would help him was too low to warrant forcing him to take them.
That decision prompted the U.S. Attorney’s Office to seek a federal kidnapping indictment against Mitchell and Barzee. Mitchell now is being held in a Salt Lake County jail pending a competency hearing next month in U.S. District Court.
Barzee has not been arraigned in the federal case, and the state case against Mitchell is on hold. Melodie Rydalch, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said federal prosecutors could prosecute Barzee without violating the prohibition against double jeopardy, but they have been coordinating with the state as it presses forward.
Elizabeth Smart recently testified at the competency hearing of self-proclaimed prophet Brian Mitchell, Barzee’s partner.