Judge to Hear More Evidence on Smart Kidnapping Suspect’s Mental Competency

A 90-day evaluation report on whether Elizabeth Smart kidnapping suspect Wanda Barzee may ever be considered competent to stand trial was considered briefly in court Monday, but a judge decided she would hear from a state psychiatrist in August before making any further determination.

The report, written by Dr. Gerald Berge of the Utah State Hospital, was not made public. Attorneys and the judge disagreed on how to interpret the report, which covers Barzee’s treatment and progress during the three months she has spent at the state hospital.

Defense attorneys Dave Finlayson and Scott Williams argued that nothing in Berge’s evaluation indicated Barzee ever would be restored to competency; prosecutor Clark Harms, reading from the report, said Barzee’s possibilities are “difficult to assess.”

Third District Judge Judith Atherton agreed, saying issuing an immediate determination that Barzee would never be found competent for trial would be premature. She scheduled a hearing to hear evidence from the attorneys and Berge on the matter for Aug. 10.

Meanwhile, Barzee will remain in custody at the hospital and is still considered incompetent to stand trial.

“Her psychotic mental illness diagnosis has not changed,” Williams said after the hearing.

Under the law, the court can find Barzee competent to stand trial; incompetent but with a substantial probability of becoming competent in the near future; or incompetent with no substantial probability of becoming competent in the foreseeable future.

Should the latter occur, Barzee must be released from medical custody, Williams said. The charges against her would stand, and she could be recommitted in a civil procedure, he said.

Barzee, 58, and her husband, Brian David Mitchell, 50, are charged with kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault, aggravated burglary and attempted aggravated kidnapping in Elizabeth’s abduction two years ago.

The couple, who say they had revelations from God, also have been charged in the attempted abduction of Elizabeth’s cousin seven weeks after Elizabeth, now 16, was taken.

They allegedly kept Elizabeth as Mitchell’s second wife for nine months in Utah and California. They were found March 12 in Sandy, a suburb about 15 miles south of Salt Lake City.

Atherton in January declared Barzee incompetent. Her first 90-day review was delayed because legislative budget cuts had reduced the number of beds available at the hospital’s forensic wing, forestalling her immediate transfer from the Salt Lake County jail, where she and Mitchell each were being held on $10 million bail. Mitchell is still in jail.

On Monday, Barzee appeared in court wearing a dark green jumper-dress over a long-sleeved tan blouse. She was well-groomed and appeared focused and attentive.

Her mother, Dora Corbett, attended the hearing and said she thought her daughter “looked fine.”

Corbett said she has visited her daughter at the hospital once. The family is trying to be supportive, Corbett said.

“We just try to understand her and talk with her as if she’s normal,” Corbett said, adding the family has been told not to talk to Barzee about why she is in custody.

Early this month, the Utah Supreme Court ruled attorneys for news outlets may present an argument in court aimed at keeping open Mitchell’s competency hearing. His attorneys want to exclude the public from the hearing, and object to reporters hearing evidence they say would threaten Mitchell’s chances for a fair trial.

In the Supreme Court petition, Mitchell’s attorneys argued that Mitchell didn’t consent to the competency evaluation and has refused to cooperate with experts assigned to the case. One of those experts has reportedly found Mitchell competent to stand trial, while the other says he is incompetent.


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Associated Press, USA
June 28, 2004
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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday June 28, 2004.
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