Attorneys representing the Tempe mother of missing baby Gabriel Johnson filed a motion to dismiss a case against her on Friday, claiming her constitutional rights were violated when a San Antonio police detective interviewed her in May in a Maricopa County jail.
Nicholas Alcock and Adam Feldman, the attorneys representing Elizabeth Johnson, filed the motion with Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Paul McMurdie, claiming her Sixth Amendment rights were violated when the detective interviewed her at length without her attorneys present when she objected to the interview, according to a court document.
The attorneys claim their relationship with Johnson has been damaged beyond repair because of the interview and they no longer could ethically represent her, according to the court document.
“This is outrageous,” Alcock told the Tribune on Friday. “This was an exhausting interview, and by the end of it, she was clearly disturbed.”
Alcock also alleges that the detective acted as “an agent” for the Tempe Police Department, which investigated the case early on and provided them with information from his interview.
Alcock would not comment on specific details of what Johnson told the detective, but said he has not received any manuscript or the audiotape of the interview.
He said the detective got up close and personal with Johnson, touching her leg, holding her hand and crying with her.
The interview began with the officer telling her that he was her “friend,” but became more combative and aggressive as it progressed, with the detective telling her that she could be facing the death penalty, according to Alcock.
Johnson, 24, has been in Maricopa County’s Estrella jail on a $1.1 million cash bond since early January after her arrest in Miami Beach, Fla. on charges of kidnapping, child abuse, custodial interference and conspiracy to commit custodial interference in connection with the disappearance of her son in San Antonio on Dec. 26. The child turned 1 in May.
Johnson drove to San Antonio with Gabriel in mid-December in the midst of a custody battle with Logan McQueary of Gilbert, her estranged boyfriend and the boy’s father.
On Dec. 27, she told McQueary via text message and phone call that she had killed Gabriel, stuffed his body in a diaper bag and threw it in a trash bin.
She told authorities that she gave Gabriel to a couple at a motel in San Antonio a day after meeting them at a park there. Johnson has refused to reveal Gabriel’s whereabouts or his state of well-being since.
But on May 10, when San Antonio police detective John Salame was permitted to go inside the jail and conducted an “unauthorized” interview with Johnson for about three hours, the interview violated standard “free talk” procedures because constitutional law prohibits law enforcement officers from interviewing anyone in custody without her attorneys present, Alcock told the Tribune.
Alcock said this was in the midst of hearings to determine whether Johnson was mentally competent to stand trial and that Johnson was “heavily, heavily” medicated on Lithium prescribed to her by the jail when Salame interviewed her.
Alcock also said the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office told Salame that he could not independently interview her.
Johnson has not been charged with anything in San Antonio, and police there are investigating Gabriel’s disappearance as both a missing persons case and a homicide.
Officials from the San Antonio Police Department would not comment on Salame’s interview with Johnson, but Salame told the attorneys his jailhouse interview with Johnson on May 10 was unrelated to the case in Maricopa County Superior Court.
When Salame was contacted by the Tribune on Friday, he would not comment.
A Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled that the detective must provide Johnson’s attorneys with information they obtained from the interview, but Salame has declined to talk further with Johnson’s attorneys.
“The detective already had been told by the county attorney’s office he could not interview Elizabeth and knew that he was dealing with somebody who could have been mentally unstable,” Alcock said.
A hearing date on the attorneys’ pending motion will be scheduled after it is filed.
Johnson has been deemed competent to stand trial and next will appear in Maricopa County Superior Court for a hearing on Oct. 25.