If alive, missing “Baby Gabriel” Johnson wouldn’t be a baby anymore.
In fact, the Tempe boy, who was 7 months old when he disappeared, would now be a walking, talking toddler two years after his mother, Elizabeth Johnson, took him to San Antonio while in the midst of a custody battle.
Johnson, 25, who said that she killed her son only to later say that she had not killed him, but had given him to a couple she didn’t know, is waiting to stand trial after doctors deemed her competent in December.
Since early 2010, Johnson has been incarcerated in the Maricopa County Estrella Jail on a $1.1 million cash bond on charges of kidnapping, child abuse, custodial interference and conspiracy to commit custodial interference in connection to Gabriel’s disappearance. He was last seen at a Homegate Inn and Suites Motel in San Antonio on Dec. 27, 2009.
Tammi Smith, 39, of Scottsdale, the woman who was interested in adopting Gabriel, will be tried with Johnson — a trial tentatively scheduled to begin in February. Smith has been charged with forgery, custodial interference and conspiracy to commit custodial interference in connection to the case. Authorities have maintained that Smith was not only researching possibilities to adopt Gabriel, but how to adopt an adult — Johnson — so she could obtain custody of Johnson’s child.
Murder charges against Johnson coming from San Antonio seem unlikely at this time and a hearing is scheduled in Maricopa County Superior Court on Friday when Johnson’s latest attorneys are expected to support Judge Paul McMurdie’s decision that Johnson is mentally competent to stand trial.
CNN Headline News’ Nancy Grace Show has billed the Elizabeth Johnson trial in its top four trials the show will be following in 2012.
If convicted on all the charges, Johnson could face a sentence ranging from nine months in jail to 20 years in prison, according to information from prosecutors.
“Maricopa County is the only place where Elizabeth is going to face justice,” Frank McQueary, the child’s paternal grandfather, has said throughout the court proceedings, which have included numerous reschedulings of trial dates mostly due to the uncertainty of Johnson’s mental state. “They will not charge her with murder and try her in San Antonio because there’s no physical evidence that she killed Gabriel. Unless, they come up with any evidence in San Antonio that she did kill Gabriel, they won’t try her because they know they have one shot at convicting her. They want to be damn sure they can get a conviction.”
In a case that has received national media attention, the whereabouts of Gabriel have seemed to fade into the background. Most of the spotlight has been on Johnson’s refusals to leave her jail cell to attend court proceedings, debates on the status of her mental state and a parade of attorneys who have said Johnson is not doing anything to assist them in her defense, causing them to withdraw from the case.
Throughout the course of the ordeal, the search for Gabriel also led authorities to Tennessee where a woman operating an adoption agency was questioned; it triggered a murder investigation in San Antonio where an extensive landfill search ensued for the boy’s possible remains; and it prompted renowned private investigators J.J. Armes and Ken Gamble to look into the case as well.
Although both private investigators withdrew from the search due to lack of financial resources, they both believed that Gabriel was still alive.
But the child’s father, Logan McQueary, formerly of Gilbert and now living out of state in an attempt to move forward with his life, has resigned himself to what forensic experts have believed all along: that Johnson, as she initially told McQueary during a chilling phone call on Dec. 27, 2009, suffocated Gabriel and stuck his “little blue body” in a diaper bag before tossing it into a Dumpster.
Meanwhile, Johnson’s grandfather, Robert Johnson, believes that his granddaughter has “come as clean as she can,” and did not kill Gabriel.
“I don’t think she harmed the child,” Robert Johnson said. “I think she did what she said she did in the park that day in San Antonio: She gave Gabriel away and doesn’t know who she gave him to.”
He added, “Her attitude right now is this: She is going to stipulate to her attorneys to support her competency and go to trial because she said she can win.”
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