News organizations will find out Friday how much of Wanda Barzee’s competency hearing in the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping will be public, reports the Salt Lake Tribune. Judge Judith Atherton will hold a private hearing Friday. Prosecutors, defense attorneys, Barzee, and media attorneys will attend. A similar hearing for co-defendant Brian David Mitchell is Jan. 27. Once access issues are resolved, the competency hearings immediately follow.
Defense attorneys said yesterday that the competency hearings must be closed to ensure their clients receive a fair trial. Media lawyers said the hearings should be open to the fullest possible extent. Prosecutors are neutral. Michael O’Brien, representing The Salt Lake Tribune, noted that none of the high-profile and religiously influenced criminal convictions in Utah over the years has been reversed because of media exposure.
Defense attorneys say the Smart case is different. Mitchell, 50, and his wife, Barzee, 58, allegedly kidnapped Elizabeth Smart, 14, from her home on June 5, 2002, and sexually assaulted her to fulfill Mitchell’s prophecy that he would take seven wives. The defense says the defendants’ mental evaluations are so closely tied to the nine months they allegedly spent with the girl that revealing details will jeopardize their ability to seat an impartial jury.