November 18, 2010 / 11:28 PM / 7 years ago

Woman who helped kidnap Elizabeth Smart testifies

SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) - The woman convicted of helping her husband kidnap Elizabeth Smart broke into tears on the witness stand on Thursday as she told jurors her marriage to the homeless street preacher was "hellish."

Wanda Barzee, who is serving a 15-year sentence for her role in Smart's 2002 abduction and was brought into court in shackles and prison garb, portrayed Brian David Mitchell as controlling, possessive and dominating.

Asked by a defense attorney to characterize her first year of marriage to Mitchell, she responded: "It was hellish."

Barzee said things improved somewhat when she became more submissive and obedient to Mitchell, but that he remained prone to bouts of fury or tears, sometimes screaming into a pillow.

"He would have these anger outbursts," she said. "He would leave the house and come back and apologize saying that he was sorry he nearly destroyed me."

Mitchell, 57, is charged with kidnapping Smart, who was then 14, from her Salt Lake City home on June 5, 2002 with the intent of forcing her to live as his young bride.

Barzee, 64, pleaded guilty to kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor and was sentenced in May to 15 years in prison.

As part of her plea agreement she is cooperating with authorities.

Prosecutors declined to call Barzee as a witness before resting their case earlier this week, but she was put on the stand by defense attorneys -- who are expected to argue Mitchell was insane at the time of Smart's kidnapping.

As he has on most days, U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball ordered Mitchell removed from court after the defendant refused to stop loudly singing hymns and Christmas Carols.


In often emotional testimony, Barzee said she met Mitchell in 1985 at a Mormon church, during a group counseling session while they were both going through divorce, and married him nine months later.

She described her now-estranged husband as "consumed with fear and doubt" and angry over his first marriage, saying they had trouble communicating and fought often until she became more submissive.

Barzee said Mitchell criticized her for watching television and made her throw darts at a picture of her ex-husband.

In the 1990s, she said, Mitchell decided they should no longer be affiliated with organized religion. The couple ultimately sold their belongings and began traveling across the country, pulling a cart that they built by hand, so he could spread their beliefs and she could play organ recitals, often in nearly empty halls and auditoriums.

Barzee's testimony ended for the day before she could be asked about the details of Smart's kidnapping.

During the morning court session, Mitchell's brother told jurors that five years before Smart was abducted he began worrying his sibling was becoming "increasingly emotionally disturbed."

Tim Mitchell, a 50-year-old mental health counselor, testified that after his older brother, Brian David Mitchell, began demanding his family call him "Daveed," he wrote to him encouraging him to get help.

"He's just getting weirder and weirder," Tim Mitchell recalled thinking.

Smart, now 23, has returned to Utah from Paris for the trial, where she is on a mission for the Mormon church, and has watched the proceedings from the courthouse gallery, surrounded by family members.

She testified during the prosecution case that Mitchell kidnapped her at knife-point from the bed she shared with her sister Mary Katherine, marched her several miles into the foothills above her Salt Lake City home and raped her.

Smart said her time with Mitchell and Barzee as "nine months of hell," during which she was raped nearly every day.

Smart's baffling disappearance made international headlines in 2002, and the search for the missing 14-year-old girl gripped much of America.

She was ultimately rescued after passersby spotted her walking with Mitchell and Barzee on a street in the Salt Lake City suburb of Sandy.

Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Jerry Norton

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