Elizabeth Johnson, the incarcerated mother of missing baby Gabriel Johnson, was deemed competent to stand trial and her mental restoration process complete, according to information from the court, but a Maricopa County Superior Court commissioner on Thursday granted her attorneys an evidentiary hearing to contest the findings in the report.
The report, conducted by two court-appointed doctors, was released to Johnson’s defense attorneys Thursday morning, just hours before the hearing, and specific details in it will not be discussed until a hearing on Sept. 23.
Johnson’s attorneys also will present discovery including new evidence involving the case before the court at that time, The findings in the report will be discussed during a competency hearing before commissioner Steve Holding on Sept. 27, so a ruling could be made on Johnson’s level of competency. Holding ruled in early June that the Tempe woman was incompetent to stand trial based on the findings in the report, including a psychological evaluation, but ruled that her level of competency could be restored through medication and counseling by therapists.
Johnson, who turned 24 last month, drove to San Antonio in mid-December with her son Gabriel, who was 5 months old at the time, in the midst of a custody battle with her estranged boyfriend and father of the baby, Logan McQueary. On Dec. 27, Johnson told McQueary she killed Gabriel and stuffed his body in a diaper bag and placed it in a Dumpster. At the time of her arrest in Miami Beach, Fla. on Dec. 30, Johnson also told the FBI that she gave Gabriel to a couple at a HomeGate Inn and Suites Motel where she was staying a day after meeting them at a park in San Antonio, according to Maricopa County Superior Court documents.
Johnson has continued to refuse to reveal Gabriel’s whereabouts. She is being held in Maricopa County’s Estrella Jail on a $1.1 million cash bond on charges of kidnapping, child abuse, custodial interference and conspiracy to commit custodial interference. She has been held in the jail since her extradition from San Antonio in early January, and restrictions remain on her privileges to receive visitors after she recently was disciplined a second time, according to her grandfather, Robert Johnson of Scottsdale, who was present at Thursday’s hearing.
Adam Feldman, who is one of Johnson’s attorneys, and fellow attorney Nick Alcock, said after Thursday’s hearing it’s common procedure for the judge or commissioner to allow defense attorneys to contest findings in a competency report, but would not comment on what they disagree with until they further read it.
“We still have a great deal of concerns about her mental health and level of competency in being able to assist us in her defense,” Feldman said. “We have issues with findings that were generated in the report.”
Feldman also said that Johnson is being seen by therapists in jail, and visits likely will continue. If a judge rules that Johnson again is incompetent to stand trial, other options could be considered, such as dismissing the case or institutionalizing her, Feldman said.
“Prosecutors likely would re-integrate another process to determine whether she is competent if that were to happen, but that’s too early to tell,” Feldman said.
Alcock, who did not attend the hearing on Thursday, told the Tribune he had not read the report and likely would not comment on its findings until next week.
Alcock also would not comment on what San Antonio police detectives discussed with Johnson and Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office deputies at the county jail in May when at least one detective from San Antonio flew to Phoenix to interview her, according to court records.
However, in June, the Maricopa County Superior Court ruled that San Antonio police and the MCSO had to provide Johnson’s attorneys with details of what was discussed.
Pending the final outcome of the competency hearing in September, a Maricopa County Superior Family Court judge could rule that Johnson is in contempt of court for refusing the answer the court’s questions of Gabriel’s whereabouts, his well-being and when she last saw the child.
Johnson’s grandfather has said he firmly believes that she gave Gabriel away.
Gabriel turned a year old in May.