Roy Exum: Stoned Or Forgiven?

Thursday, November 19, 2009 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

In the corrupt country of Somalia on Tuesday a 29-year-old woman who a judge determined had an illicit affair was stoned to death. A religious court found her guilty of sex outside of marriage and the militants that control much of southern Somalia (and have links to al-Qaida) have instituted a conservative reading of Islam's Sharia law.

Let me tell you how that works: They take the accused to an open area and bury them up to their neck in the sand. Then they cover the head with a white cloth and let fly with rocks until the shroud is completely red with blood. If the person being stoned is still alive, they get another white cloth and repeat the procedure, doing so time and time again until death occurs.

So it wasn't lost on me that halfway around the world on the same day, a particularly heinous woman who we know as Wanda Eileen Barzee pleaded guilty to charges of kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City.

She and her husband kidnapped a beautiful blonde girl, Elizabeth Smart, when she was 14 from her family's home and in the nine months she was in captivity, Barzee's now estranged husband, Brian David Mitchell, reportedly raped the child every day. This week Barzee, admitting her role as the madman's wife, entered a guilty plea and is expected to be sentenced in a way that would keep her behind bars until she is 73.

Here's the kicker: When Barzee stood before the court, her tearful apology included the fact she has been "humbled as I realize how much Elizabeth Smart has been victimized and the role that I played in it. I am so sorry, Elizabeth, for all the pain and suffering I have caused you and your family. It is my hope that you will be able to find it in your heart to forgive me."

Elizabeth was not in court, instead preparing to go on a mission trip with others from Brigham Young University and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but her father was. You want to know what Ed Smart said after literally years of anguish, when he learned Barzee had asked for forgiveness? "Absolutely! We all make mistakes in life. If we can't forgive each other, heaven help us."

Flash back to Somalia, where a crowd of 200 stoned an adulterer dead and gave her male lover 100 lashes. Would you prefer to live under Islam's rule or in a land with followers of Jesus Christ like the Smart family? In no way can you compare the crimes, but neither can you compare the punishments.

Under sentencing guidelines Wanda Barzee, who has already been jailed for six years, will probably be in jail for at least nine more years before any consideration of parole is given, but her "true freedom" came on Tuesday when Ed Smart said that one word: "Absolutely."

Oh, Elizabeth's dad didn't white-wash the brutal child abuse. "I just hope that Wanda realizes what she did and that it was absolutely wrong and absolutely horrible," he told reporters outside the courthouse.

There is ample evidence to suggest Barzee was "brain-washed" by Mitchell. And the fact she will be returned to the Utah State Hospital until she is formally sentenced next May lends further credence to the horrors her husband inflicted. Under the plea structure, there is no way she will be released before at least nine more years go by.

From the bizarre beginning Barzee has been painted as a "vacant-eyed follower" of Mitchell, a one-time itinerant preacher who is accused of taking Smart as a wife in order to fulfill a religious prophecy included in a 27-page manifesto he himself wrote called "The Book of Immanuel David Isaiah."

Mitchell's lawyers have been trying unsuccessfully to show him as "mentally incompetent" and a 10-day trial to determine that is scheduled to begin the Monday after Thanksgiving in Salt Lake City. Ed Smart won't be as forgiving the next time around. "To me, he should never see the light of day out of prison," he has said. "I believe mentally he is an extremist and that extremism is not going to change. If he were ever to get out, he would do it again."

This week, however, was different. It was about the Christian rite of forgiveness. As Ed Smart gave Wanda Barzee her life back, while elsewhere a woman was stoned to death. It is a message that shouldn't be lost on anyone.

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